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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies

1 John 1



Other Authors
Verse 1

Compare John 1:1, John 1:9, John 1:14. The construction of the first three verses is somewhat involved. It will be simplified by throwing it into three parts, represented respectively by 1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2, 1 John 1:3. The first part, That which was from the beginning - Word of Life, forms a suspended clause, the verb being omitted for the time, and the course of the sentence being broken by 1 John 1:2, which forms a parenthesis: and the Life - manifested unto us. 1 John 1:3, in order to resume the broken sentence of 1 John 1:1, repeats in a condensed form two of the clauses in that verse, that which we have seen and heard, and furnishes the governing verb, we declare. Thus the simple sentence, divested of parenthesis and resumptive words would be, We declare unto you that which was from the beginning, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life.

That which ( ὃ )

It is disputed whether John uses this in a personal sense as equivalent to He whom, or in its strictly neuter sense as meaning something relating to the person and revelation of Christ. On the whole, the ( περί ), concerning (A. V., of ), seems to be against the personal sense. The successive clauses, that which was from the beginning, etc., express, not the Eternal Word Himself, but something relating to or predicated concerning ( περί ) Him. The indefinite that which, is approximately defined by these clauses; that about the Word of Life which was from the beginning, that which appealed to sight, to hearing is, to touch. Strictly, it is true, the περί is appropriate only with we have heard, but it is used with the other clauses in a wide and loose sense (compare John 16:8). “The subject is not merely a message, but all that had been made clear through manifold experience concerning it” (Westcott).

Was ( ἦν )

Not ἐγένετο cameinto being. See on John 1:3; see on John 8:34; see on John 8:58. It was already existing when the succession of life began.

From the beginning ( ἀπ ' ἀρχῆς )

The phrase occurs twice in the Gospel (John 8:44; John 15:27); nine times in the First Epistle, and twice in the Second. It is used both absolutely (John 3:8; John 2:13, John 2:14), and relatively (John 15:27; 1 John 2:24). It is here contrasted with “in the beginning” (John 1:1). The difference is that by the words “in the beginning,” the writer places himself at the initial point of creation, and, looking back into eternity, describes that which was already in existence when creation began. “The Word was in the beginning.” In the words “from the beginning,” the writer looks back to the initial point of time, and describes what has been in existence from that point onward. Thus, “in the beginning” characterizes the absolute divine Word as He was before the foundation of the world and at the foundation of the world. “From the beginning” characterizes His development in time. Note the absence of the article both here and in John 1:1. Not the beginning as a definite, concrete fact, but as apprehended by man; that to which we look as “beginning.”

Have heard - have seen ( ἀκηκόαμεν - ἑωράκαμεν )

Both in the perfect tense, denoting the still abiding effects of the hearing and seeing.

With our eyes

Emphasizing the direct, personal experience in a marvelous matter.

Have looked upon ( ἐθεασάμεθα )

Rev., correctly, beheld. The tense is the aorist; marking not the abiding effect of the vision upon the beholder, but the historical manifestation to special witnesses. On the difference between this verb and ἑωράκαμεν wehave seen, see on John 1:14, John 1:18.

Have handled ( ἐψηλάησαν )

The aorist tense. Rev. handled. For the peculiar force of the verb see on Luke 24:39. The reference is, probably, to handle me (Luke 24:39), and to John 20:27. This is the more noticeable from the fact that John does not mention the fact of the Resurrection in the Epistles, and does not use the word in his own narrative of the Resurrection. The phrase therefore falls in with the numerous instances in which John assumes the knowledge of certain historic facts on the part of his readers.

Of the Word ( περὶ τοῦ λογοῦ )

Better, as Rev., concerning the Word.

Of life ( τῆς ζωῆς )

Lit., the life. See on John 1:4. The phrase ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς , the Word of the Life, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The nearest approach to it is Philemon 2:16; but there neither word has the article. In the phrase words of eternal life (John 6:68), and in Acts 5:20, all the words of this life, ῥήματα is used. The question is whether λόγος is used here of the Personal Word, as John 1:1, or of the divine message or revelation. In the four passages of the Gospel where λόγος is used in a personal sense (John 1:1, John 1:14), it is used absolutely, the Word (compare Revelation 19:13). On the other hand, it is often used relatively in the New Testament; as word of the kingdom (Matthew 8:19); word of this salvation (Acts 8:26); word of His grace (Acts 20:32); word of truth (James 1:18). By John ζωῆς oflife, is often used in order to characterize the word which accompanies it. Thus, crown of life (Revelation 2:10); water of life (Revelation 21:6); book of life (Revelation 3:5); bread of life (John 6:35); i.e., the water which is living and communicates life; the book; which contains the revelation of life; the bread which imparts life. In the same sense, John 6:68; Acts 5:20. Compare Titus 1:2, Titus 1:3.

Though the phrase, the Word of the Life, does not elsewhere occur in a personal sense, I incline to regard its primary reference as personal, from the obvious connection of the thought with John 1:1, John 1:4. “In the beginning was the Word, - in Him was life.” “As John does not purpose to say that he announces Christ as an abstract single idea, but that he declares his own concrete historical experiences concerning Christ, - so now he continues, not the Logos (Word), but concerning the Word, we make annunciation to you” (Ebrard). At the same time, I agree with Canon Westcott that it is most probable that the two interpretations are not to be sharply separated. “The revelation proclaims that which it includes; it has, announces, gives life. In Christ life as the subject, and life as the character of the revelation, were absolutely united.”

Verse 2

This verse is parenthetical. Compare, for similar interruptions of the construction, 1 John 1:3, John 1:14, John 3:16, John 3:31; John 19:35.

And ( καὶ )

See on John 1:10; see on John 8:20.

The Life ( ἡ ζωὴ )

The Word Himself who is the Life. Compare John 14:6; John 5:26; 1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:12. Life expresses the nature of the Word (John 1:4). The phrase, the Life, besides being equivalent to the Word, also indicates, like the Truth and the Light, an aspect of His being.

Was manifested ( ἐφανερώθη )

See on John 21:1. Corresponding with the Word was made flesh (John 1:14). The two phrases, however, present different aspects of the same truth. The Word became flesh, contemplates simply the historic fact of incarnation. The life was manifested, sets forth the unfolding of that fact in the various operations of life. The one denotes the objective process of the incarnation as such, the other the result of that process as related to human capacity of receiving and understanding it. “The reality of the incarnation would be undeclared if it were said, 'The Life became flesh.' The manifestation of the Life was a consequence of the incarnation of the Word, but it is not coextensive with it” (Westcott).

Have seen - bear witness - shew

Three ideas in the apostolic message: experience, testimony, announcement.

Bear witness

See on John 1:7.

Shew ( ἀπαγγέλλομεν )

Better, as Rev., declare. See on John 16:25. So here. The message comes from ( ἀπὸ ) God.

That eternal life ( τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον )

A particularly faulty translation, since it utterly fails to express the development of the idea of life, which is distinctly contemplated by the original. Render, as Rev., the life, the eternal life; or the life, even the eternal life. For a similar repetition of the article compare 1 John 2:8; 1 John 4:9; 2 John 1:11. This particular phrase occurs only here and John 2:25. John uses ζωὴ αἰώνιος eternallife, and ἡ αἰώνιος ζωη the eternal life, the former expressing the general conception of life eternal, and the latter eternal life as the special gift of Christ. Αἰώνιος eternaldescribes the life in its quality of not being measured by time, a larger idea than that of mere duration.

Which ( ἥτις )

Not the simple relative ἥ whichbut defining the quality of the life, and having at the same time a kind of confirmatory and explanatory force of the word eternal: seeing that it was a life divine in its nature - “with the Father” - and therefore independent of temporal conditions.

With the Father ( πρὸς τὸν πατέρα )

See on with God (John 1:1). In living, active relation and communion with the Father. “The preposition of motion with the verb of repose involves eternity of relation with activity and life” (Coleridge). The life eternally tended to the Father, even as it emanated from Him. It came forth from Him and was manifested to men, but to the end that it might take men into itself and unite them with the Father. The manifestation of life to men was a revelation of life, as, first of all and beyond all, centering in God. Hence, though life, abstractly, returns to God, as it proceeds from God, it returns bearing the redeemed world in its bosom. The complete divine ideal of life includes impartation, but impartation with a view to the practical development of all that receives it with reference to God as its vivifying, impelling, regulating, and inspiring center.

The Father

See on John 12:26. The title “the Father” occurs rarely in the Synoptists, and always with reference to the Son. In Paul only thrice (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 2:18). Nowhere in Peter, James, Jude, or Revelation. Frequent in John's Gospel and Epistles, and in the latter, uniformly.

Verse 3

The regular course of the sentence, broken by 1 John 1:2, is now resumed, by the repetition of that which we have seen and heard. Only the order is reversed: seen and heard instead of heard and seen (1 John 1:1), and the two elements of experience, sight and hearing, are thrown together without the repeated relative that which. In 1 John 1:1, the climax advanced from the lower evidence of hearing to that of sight. Here, in recapitulating, the process is reversed, and the higher class of evidence is put first.

Unto you also ( καὶ ὑμῖν )

The also is variously explained. According to some, referring to a special circle of Christian readers beyond those addressed at the conclusion of the Gospel. Others, again, as referring to those who had not seen and heard as contrasted with eye-witnesses. Thus Augustine on John 20:26sqq. “He (Thomas) touched the man, and confessed the God. And the Lord, consoling us who, now that He is seated in heaven, cannot handle Him with the hand, but touch Him by faith, says, 'Because thou hast seen thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen and believe.' It is we that are described; we that are pointed out. May there therefore come to pass in us that blessedness which the Lord predicted should be: the Life itself has been manifested in the flesh, so that the thing which can be seen with the heart alone might be seen with the eyes also, that it might heal our hearts.”

Fellowship ( κοινωνίαν )

This word introduces us to one of the main thoughts of the Epistle. The true life in man, which comes through the acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God, consists in fellowship with God and with man. On the word, see on Acts 2:42; see on Luke 5:10. The verb κοινωνέω tocome into fellowship, to be made a partner, to be partaker of, occurs 1 Peter 4:13; 2 John 1:11; Hebrews 2:14, etc. The expression here, ( ἔχειν κοινωνίαν ) is stronger, since it expresses the enjoyment or realization of fellowship, as compared with the mere fact of fellowship. See on John 16:22.

Our fellowship ( ἡ κοινωνία ἡ ἡμετέρα )

More strictly, the fellowship, that which is ours, according to John's characteristic practice of defining and emphasizing a noun by an article and possessive pronoun. See on John 10:27. Ours (possessive instead of personal pronoun) indicating fellowship as a distinguishing mark of Christians rather than as merely something enjoyed by them.

With the Father and with His Son ( μετὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ )

Note the repeated preposition μετά withdistinguishing the two persons, and coordinating the fellowship with the Father, and the fellowship with the Son, thus implying the sameness of essence. The fellowship with both contemplates both as united in the Godhead. Plato says of one who lives in unrestrained desire and robbery, “Such an one is the friend neither of God nor man, for he is incapable of communion ( κοινωνεῖν ἀδύνατος ), and he who is incapable of communion ( κοινωνία ) us also incapable of friendship” (“Gorgias,” 507). So in the “Symposium” (188), and he defines divination as “the art of communion ( κοινωνία ) between gods and men.”

Verse 4

These things

The whole Epistle.

Write we unto you ( γράφομεν ὑμῖν )

The best texts read ἡμεῖς weinstead of ὑμῖν toyou. Both the verb and the pronoun are emphatic. The writer speaks with conscious authority, and his message is to be not only announced ( ἀπαγγέλλομεν , 1 John 1:3), but written. We write is emphasized by the absence of the personal object, to you.

Your joy ( ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν )

The best texts read ἡμῶν , our, though either reading gives a good sense.

Full ( πεπληρωμένη )

More correctly, fulfilled. Frequent in John. See John 3:29; John 7:8; John 8:38; John 15:11; 2 John 1:12; Revelation 6:11. “The peace of reconciliation, the blessed consciousness of sonship, the happy growth in holiness, the bright prospect of future completion and glory, - all these are but simple details of that which, in all its length and breadth is embraced by one word, Eternal Life, the real possession of which is the immediate source of our joy. We have joy, Christ's joy, because we are blessed, because we have life itself in Christ” (Düsterdieck, cit. by Alford). And Augustine: “For there is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for thine own sake, whose joy Thou thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee; this is it and there is no other” (“Confessions,” x., 22). Alford is right in remarking that this verse gives an epistolary character to what follows, but it can hardly be said with him that it “fills the place of the χαίρειν greetinglit., rejoice, so common in the opening of Epistles.”

Verse 5

This then is ( καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν )

Rev., correctly and literally, and this. According to the proper reading the verb stands first in order ( ἐστὶν αὕτη ), with emphasis, not merely as a copula, but in the sense “there exists this as the message.” For a similar use of the substantive verb, see 1 John 5:16, 1 John 5:17; 1 John 2:15; John 8:50.

Message ( ἐπαγγελία )

This word, however, is invariably used in the New Testament in the sense of promise. The best texts read ἀγγελία , message, which occurs only at 1 John 3:11; and the corresponding verb, ἀγγέλλω , only at John 10:18.

We have heard of Him ( ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ ' αὐτοῦ )

A form of expression not found elsewhere in John, who commonly uses παρ ' αὐτοῦ . See on John 6:46. The phrase here points to the ultimate and not necessarily the immediate source of the message. Not only John, but others in earlier times had heard this message. Compare 1 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:11. Ἁπό points to the source παρά to the giver. Thus, John 5:41, “ I receive not honor from ( παρά ) men.” They are not the bestowers of honor upon me.” John 5:44, “How can ye believe which receive honor from ( παρά ) one another;” the honor which men have to give, “and seek not the honor that cometh from ( παρά ) God;” the honor which God alone bestows. On the other hand, 1 John 3:22, “Whatsoever we ask we receive from ( ἀπό ) Him,” the ultimate source of our gifts. So Matthew 17:25: “Of ( ἀπό ) whom do the kings of the earth take custom - of ( ἀπό ) their own children or of ( ἀπό ) strangers?” What is the legitimate and ultimate source of revenue in states?

Declare ( ἀναγγέλλομεν )

Compare the simple verb ἀγγέλλειν tobring tidings, John 20:18, and only there. Ἀναγγέλλειν is to bring the tidings up to ( ἀνά ) or back to him who receives them. Ἀπαγέλλειν is to announce tidings as coming from ( ἀπό ) some one, see Matthew 2:8; John 4:51. Καταγγέλλειν is to proclaim with authority, so as to spread the tidings down among ( κατά ) those who hear. See Acts 17:23. Found only in the Acts and in Paul.

God is Light ( Θεὸς φῶς ἐστὶν )

A statement of the absolute nature of God. Not a light, nor the light, with reference to created beings, as the light of men, the light of the world, but simply and absolutely God is light, in His very nature. Compare God is spirit, and see on John 4:24: God is love, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16. The expression is not a metaphor. “All that we are accustomed to term light in the domain of the creature, whether with a physical or metaphysical meaning, is only an effluence of that one and only primitive Light which appears in the nature of God” (Ebrard). Light is immaterial, diffusive, pure, and glorious. It is the condition of life.

Physically, it represents glory; intellectually, truth; morally, holiness. As immaterial it corresponds to God as spirit; as diffusive, to God as love; as the condition of life, to God as life; as pure and illuminating, to God as holiness and truth. In the Old Testament, light is often the medium of God's visible revelations to men. It was the first manifestation of God in creation. The burning lamp passed between the pieces of the parted victim in God's covenant with Abraham. God went before Israel in a pillar of fire, descended in fire upon Sinai, and appeared in the luminons cloud which rested on the mercy-seat in the most holy place. In classical Greek φῶς lightis used metaphorically for delight, deliverance, victory, and is applied to persons as a term of admiring affection, as we say that one is the light of our life, or the delight of our eyes. So Ulysses, on seeing his son Telemachus, says, “Thou hast come, Telemachus, sweet light ( γλυκερὸν φάος )” (Homer, “Odyssey,” xvi., 23). And Electra, greeting her returning brother, Orestes, “O dearest light ( φίλτατον φῶς )” (Sophocles, “Electra,” 1223). Occasionally, as by Euripides, of the light of truth (“Iphigenia at Tauris,” 1046). No modern writer has developed the idea of God as light with such power and beauty as Dante. His “Paradise” might truthfully be called a study of light. Light is the only visible expression of God. Radiating from Him, it is diffused through the universe as the principle of life. This key-note is struck at the very opening of “the Paradise.”

“The glory of Him who moveth everything

Doth penetrate the universe, and shine

In one part more and in another less.

Within that heaven which most His light receives

Was I.”

Paradiso,” i., 1-5.

In the final, beatific vision, God Himself is imagined as a luminous point which pours its rays through all the spheres, upon which the spirits gazed, and in which they read the past, the present, and the future.

“O grace abundant, by which I presumed

To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal,

So that the seeing I consumed therein!

I saw that in its depth far down is lying

Bound up with love together in one volume,

What through the universe in leaves is scattered;

Substance, and accident, and their operations,

All interfused together in such wise

That what I speak of is one simple light.”

Paradiso,” xxxiii., 82-90.

“In presence of that light one such becomes,

That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect

It is impossible he e'er consent;

Because the good, which object of will,

Is gathered all in this, and out of it

That is defective which is perfect there.”

Paradiso,” xxxiii., 100-105.

“O Light eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,

Sole knowest thyself, and, know unto thyself

And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!

Paradiso xxxiii., 124-126.

Light enkindles love.

“If in the heat of love I flame upon thee

Beyond the measure that on earth is seen,

So that the valor of thine eyes I vanquish,

Marvel thou not thereat; for this proceeds

From perfect sight, which, as it apprehends,

To the good apprehended moves its feet.

Well I perceive how is already shining

Into thine intellect the eternal Light,

That only seen enkindles always love.”

Paradiso,” v., 1-9

See also “ Paradiso,” cantos xxx., xxxi.

In Him is no darkness at all ( καὶ σκοτία οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ οὐδεμία )

It is characteristic of John to express the same idea positively and negatively. See John 1:7, John 1:8, John 1:20; John 3:15, John 3:17, John 3:20; John 4:42; John 5:24; John 8:35; John 10:28; 1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:12. According to the Greek order, the rendering is: “And darkness there is not in Him, no, not in any way.” For a similar addition of οὐδείς notone, to a complete sentence, see John 6:63; John 11:19; John 19:11. On σκοτία darknesssee on John 1:5.

Verse 6

If we say ( ἐὰν εἴπωμεν )

The subjunctive mood puts the case as supposed, not as assumed.

Walk in the darkness

The phrase occurs only in John's Gospel and First Epistle. Darkness here is σκότος , instead of σκοτία (1 John 1:5). See on John 1:5. Walk ( περιπατῶμεν ), is, literally, walk about; indicating the habitual course of the life, outward and inward. The verb, with this moral sense, is common in John and Paul, and is found elsewhere only in Mark 7:5; Acts 21:21.

We lie and do not the truth

Again the combination of the positive and negative statements. See on 1 John 1:5. The phrase to do the truth occurs only in John's Gospel and First Epistle. See on John 3:21. All walking in darkness is a not doing of the truth. “Right action is true thought realized. Every fragment of right done is so much truth made visible” (Westcott).

Verse 7

We walk in the light ( ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν )

The phrase occurs only in the First Epistle. Walk, as above. In the light, having our life in God, who is light.

He is in the light

God is forever and unchangeable in perfect light. Compare Psalm 104:2; 1 Timothy 6:16. We walk, advancing in the light and by means of the light to more light. “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).

One with another ( μετ ' ἀλλήλων )

Not, we with God and God with us, but with our brethren. Fellowship with God exhibits and proves itself by fellowship with Christians. See 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:12; 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23.

Of Jesus Christ His Son

Omit Christ. The human name, Jesus, shows that His blood is available for man. The divine name, His Son, shows that it is efficacious. I shall be rendering a service to students of John's Epistles by giving, in a condensed form, Canon Westcott's note, classifying the several names of our Lord and their uses in the Epistles.

The name in John, as in the Bible elsewhere, has two distinct, but closely connected meanings.

1. The Revelation of the Divine Being by a special title.

2. The whole sum of the manifold revelations gathered up so as to form one supreme revelation.

The latter sense is illustrated in 3 John 1:7, where “the name” absolutely includes the essential elements of the Christian creed, the complete revelation of Christ's work in relation to God and man. Compare John 20:31; Acts 5:41.

In 1 John 2:12, the term is more limited, referring to Christ as He lived on earth and gave Himself for “the brethren.” In 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:13, the exact sense is defined by what follows.

Actual Names Used.

(I.) His Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:20. The divine antecedent is differently described in each case, and the difference colors the phrase. In 1 John 1:2-3, the Father (compare 1John href="/desk/?q=1jo+3:23&sr=1">1 John 3:23, God. In 1 John 5:20, He that is true. Thus the sonship of Christ is regarded in relation to God as Father, as God, and as satisfying the divine ideal which man is able to form. The whole phrase, His Son Jesus Christ, includes the two elements of the confessions which John makes prominent.

1. Jesus is the Son of God (John 4:15; John 5:5).

2. Jesus is the Christ (John 2:22; John 5:1).

The constituents of the compressed phrase are all used separately by John.

(1.) Jesus. 1 John 2:22; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 4:3(where the correct reading omits Christ). The thought is that of the Lord in His perfect historic humanity.

(2.) Christ. 2 John 1:9. Pointing to the preparation made under the old covenant.

(3). Jesus Christ. 1 John 2:1; 1 John 5:6; 2 John 1:7. Combining the ideas of true humanity and messianic position.

In 1 John 4:15, the reading is doubtful: Jesus or Jesus Christ.

On 1 John 4:2, see note.

(4.) The Son. 1 John 2:22, 1 John 2:23, 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:14; 1 John 5:12. The absolute relation of Sonship to Fatherhood.

(5.) The Son of God. 1 John 3:8; 1 John 5:10, 1 John 5:12, 1 John 5:13, 1 John 5:20. Compare His Son (1 John 4:10; 1 John 5:9), where the immediate antecedent is ὁ Θεός Godand 1 John 5:18, He that was begotten of God. Combination of the ideas of Christ's divine dignity and divine sonship.

(6.) Jesus His (God's) Son. 1 John 1:7. Two truths. The blood of Christ is available and efficacious.

(7). His (God's) Son, His only Son. 1 John 4:9. The uniqueness of the gift is the manifestation of love.

The Son in various forms is eminently characteristic of the First and Second Epistles, in which it occurs more times than in all Paul's Epistles.

Κύριος Lordis not found in the Epistles (omit from 2 John 1:3), but occurs in the Gospel, and often in Revelation.

The expression, the blood of Jesus His Son, is chosen with a profound insight. Though Ignatius uses the phrase blood of God yet the word blood is inappropriate to the Son conceived in His divine nature. The word Jesus brings out His human nature, in which He assumed a real body of flesh and blood, which blood was shed for us.

Cleanseth ( καθαρίζει )

See on Mark 7:19. Not only forgives but removes. Compare Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:13sq.; Hebrews 9:22sq.; Ephesians 5:26sq.; Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:3. Compare also 1 John 1:9, where, forgive ( ἀφῇ ) and cleanse ( καθαρίσῃ ) occur, with an obvious difference of meaning. Note the present tense cleanseth. The cleansing is present and continuous. Alexander (Bishop of Derry) cites a striking passage from Victor Hugo (“Le Parricide”). The usurper Canute, who has had a share in his father's death, expiring after a virtuous and glorious reign, walks towards the light of heaven. But first he cuts with his sword a shroud of snow from the top of Mt. Savo. As he advances towards heaven, a cloud forms, and drop by drop his shroud is soaked with a rain of blood.

All sin ( πάσης ἁμαρτίας )

The principle of sin in all its forms and manifestations; not the separate manifestations. Compare all joy (James 1:2); all patience (2 Corinthians 7:12); all wisdom (Ephesians 1:8); all diligence (2 Peter 1:5).

Verse 8

That we have no sin

Ὅτι thatmay be taken merely as a mark of quotation: “If we say, sin we have not.” On the phrase to have sin, see on John 16:22, and compare have fellowship, 1 John 1:3. Sin ( ἁμαρτίαν ) is not to be understood of original sin, or of sin before conversion, but generally. “It is obvious that this ἔχειν ἁμαρτίαν (to have sin ), is infinitely diversified, according to the successive measure of the purification and development of the new man. Even the apostle John does not exclude himself from the universal if we say ” (Ebrard).

Heathen authors say very little about sin, and classic paganism had little or no conception of sin in the Gospel sense. The nearest approach to it was by Plato, from whose works a tolerably complete doctrinal statement might be gathered of the origin, nature, and effects of sin. The fundamental idea of ἁμαρτία (sin ) among the Greeks is physical; the missing of a mark (see on Matthew 1:21; see on Matthew 6:14); from which it develops into a metaphysical meaning, to wander in the understanding. This assumes knowledge as the basis of goodness; and sin, therefore, is, primarily, ignorance. In the Platonic conception of sin, intellectual error is the prominent element. Thus: “What then, I said, is the result of all this? Is not this the result - that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?” (“Euthydemus,” 281). “The business of the founders of the state will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which has been already declared by us to be the greatest of all - they must continue to rise until they arrive at the good” (“Republic,” vii., 519). Plato represents sin as the dominance of the lower impulses of the soul, which is opposed to nature and to God (see “Laws,” ix., 863. “Republic,” i., 351). Or again, as an inward want of harmony. “May we not regard every living being as a puppet of the gods, either their plaything only or created with a purpose - which of the two we cannot certainly know? But this we know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice” (“Laws,” i., 644). He traces most sins to the influence of the body on the soul. “In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible communion or fellowship with the body, and are not infected with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away, and we shall be pure, and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth” (“Phedo,” 67).

We find in the classical writers, however, the occasional sense of the universal faultiness of mankind, though even Plato furnishes scarcely any traces of accepting the doctrine of innate depravity. Thus Theognis: “The sun beholds no wholly good and virtuous man among those who are now living” (615). “But having become good, to remain in a good state and be good, is not possible, and is not granted to man. God only has this blessing; but man cannot help being bad when the force of circumstances overpowers him” (Plato, “Protagoras,” 344). “ How, then: is it possible to be sinless? It is impossible; but this is possible, to strive not to sin” (“Epictetus,” iv., 12,19).

We deceive ourselves ( ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν )

Lit., we lead ourselves astray. See on Mark 7:24; see on Matthew 27:63, Matthew 27:64; see on Judges 1:13. Not only do we err, we are responsible for it. The phrase only here in the New Testament. For the verb as applied to deceivers of various kinds, see Matthew 24:4; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:3. Compare πλάνοι deceivers(2 John 1:7); πλάνη error(Judges 1:11; 1 John 4:6).

The truth

The whole Gospel. All reality is in God. He is the only true God ( ἀληθινός John 17:3; see on John 1:9). This reality is incarnated in Christ, the Word of God, “the very image of His substance,” and in His message to men. This message is the truth, a title not found in the Synoptists, Acts, or Revelation, but in the Catholic Epistles (James 5:19; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 2:2), and in Paul (2 Corinthians 8:8; Ephesians 1:13, etc.). It is especially characteristic of the Gospel and Epistles of John. The truth is represented by John objectively and subjectively.

1. Objectively. In the person of Christ. He is the Truth, the perfect revelation of God (John 1:18; John 14:6). His manhood is true to the absolute law of right, which is the law of love, and is, therefore, our perfect pattern of manhood.

Truth, absolutely existing in and identified with God, was also, in some measure, diffused in the world. The Word was in the world, before as after the incarnation (John 1:10. See on John 1:4, John 1:5). Christ often treats the truth as something to which He came to bear witness, and which it was His mission to develop into clearer recognition and expression (John 18:37). This He did through the embodiment of truth in His own person (John 1:14, John 1:17; John 14:6), and by His teaching (John 8:40; John 17:17); and His work is carried out by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13), sent by God and by Christ himself (John 14:26; John 16:7). Hence the Spirit, even as Christ, is the Truth (1 John 5:6). The whole sum of the knowledge of Christ and of the Spirit, is the Truth (1 John 2:21; 2 John 1:1). This truth can be recognized, apprehended, and appropriated by man, and can be also rejected by him (John 8:32; 1 John 2:21; John 8:44).

2. Subjectively. The truth is lodged in man by the Spirit, and communicated to his spirit (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). It dwells in man (1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:4; 2 John 1:2), as revelation, comfort, guidance, enlightenment, conviction, impulse, inspiration, knowledge. It is the spirit of truth as opposed to the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). It translates itself into act. God's true children do the truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6). It brings sanctification and freedom (John 8:32; John 17:17). See on John 14:6, John 14:17.

Verse 9

Confess ( ὁμολογῶμεν )

From ὁμός , one and the same, and λέγω , to say. Hence, primarily, to say the same thing as another, and, therefore, to admit the truth of an accusation. Compare Psalm 51:4. The exact phrase, ὁμολογεῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας confessthe sins, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Compare ἐξομολογεῖσθαι ἁμαρτίας ( παραπτώματα ) Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; James 5:16. See on Matthew 3:6; see on Matthew 11:25; see on Luke 22:6; see on Acts 19:18; see on James 5:16.


Note the plural, as compared with the singular, sin, in the previous verse. See note. The plural indicates that the confession is to be specific as well as general. Augustine's words are exactly to the point, but his play upon pardon and confess cannot be reproduced in English. “Vis ut ille ignoscat? Tu agnosce.” Do you wish Him to forgive? Do you confess.

Faithful ( πιστός )

True to His own nature and promises; keeping faith with Himself and with man. The word is applied to God as fulfilling His own promises (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 11:11); as fulfilling the purpose for which He has called men (1 Thessalonians 5:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9); as responding with guardianship to the trust reposed in Him by men (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:19). “He abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). The same term is applied to Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 2:17). God's faithfulness is here spoken of not only as essential to His own being, but as faithfulness toward us; “fidelity to that nature of truth and light, related to His own essence, which rules in us as far as we confess our sins” (Ebrard). The essence of the message of life is fellowship with God and with His children (1 John 1:3). God is light (1 John 1:5). Walking in the light we have fellowship, and the blood of Jesus is constantly applied to cleanse us from sin, which is darkness and which interrupts fellowship. If we walk in darkness we do not the truth. If we deny our sin the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, “God, by whom we were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful ” (1 Corinthians 1:9) to forgive our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and thus to restore and maintain the interrupted fellowship.

Just ( δίκαιος )

Rev., righteous. From δίκη rightThe term is applied both to God and to Christ. See Revelation 16:5; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:7; 1 Peter 3:18. The two words, faithful and righteous, imply each other. They unite in a true conception of God's character. God, who is absolute rightness, must be faithful to His own nature, and His righteous dealing with men who partake of that nature and walk in fellowship with Him, is simply fidelity to Himself. “Righteousness is truth passing into action” (Westcott).

To forgive ( ἵνα ἀφῇ )

See John 20:23; 1 John 2:12. Primarily the word means to send away, dismiss; hence of sins, to remit, as a debt. Cleansing (1 John 1:7) contemplates the personal character of the sinner; remission, his acts. See on Matthew 6:12; see on James 5:15. To forgive is, literally, that he may forgive. On John's use of ἵνα inorder that, see on John 15:13; see on John 14:31. Forgiveness answers to the essential purpose of His faithful and righteous being.

Our sins ( τὰς ἁμαρτίας )

Sin is defined by John as ἀνομία, lawlessnessCompare Romans 6:19. A.V., transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). It may be regarded either as condition or as act; either with reference to the normal, divine ideal of manhood, or to an external law imposed upon man by God. Any departure from the normal ideal of man as created in God's image puts man out of true relation and harmony with his true self, and therefore with God and with his fellowman. He thus comes into false, abnormal relation with right, love, truth, and light. He walks in darkness and forfeits fellowship with God. Lawlessness is darkness, lovelessness, selfishness. This false principle takes shape in act. He doeth ( ποιεῖ ) or committeth sin. He doeth lawlessness ( τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ ; 1 John 3:4, 1 John 3:8). He transgresses the words ( ῥήματα , John 17:8) of God, and His commandments ( ἐντολαί , 1 John 2:3) as included and expressed in His one word or message ( λόγος , 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:14). Similarly the verb ἁμαρτάνειν , to sin, may signify either to be sinful (1 John 3:6), or to commit sin (1 John 1:10). Sin, regarded both as principle and act, is designated by John by the term ἁμαρτία . The principle expressed in the specific acts is ἡ ἁμαρτία (John 1:29), which occurs in this sense in Paul, but not in the Synoptists, nor in Acts. Many of the terms used for sin by other New Testament writers are wanting in John; as ἀσέβεια ungodliness(see on Judges 1:14); ἀσεβεῖν tobe ungodly (2 Peter 2:6); παραβαίνειν totransgress; παράβασις transgression παραβάτης transgressor(see on Matthew 6:14; see on James 2:11); παρανομεῖν toact contrary to the law; παρανομία breachof law (see on Acts 23:3; see on 2 Peter 2:16); παράπτωμα trespass(see on Matthew 6:14).

To cleanse

See on 1 John 1:7.

Unrighteousness ( ἀδικίας )

With reference to δίκαιος righteousThe righteous One who calls us into fellowship with Himself, purges away the unrighteousness which is contrary to His nature, and which renders fellowship impossible. The word occurs in John's writings only at John 7:18; 1 John 5:17.

Verse 10

We have not sinned ( οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν )

Committed sins. Sin regarded as an act. The state is expressed by ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν wehave no (or not) sin (1 John 1:8).

We make Him ( ποιοῦμεν αὐτὸν )

A phrase characteristic of John. See John 5:18; John 8:53; John 10:33; John 19:7, John 19:12.

His word ( ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ )

Not the personal Word, as John 1:1, but the divine message of the Gospel. See Luke 5:1; Luke 8:11; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2, Acts 6:7, etc. Compare “the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The truth is the substance of the word. The word carries the truth. The word both moves the man (John 8:31, John 8:32) and abides in him (John 5:38; John 8:37). The man also abides in the word (John 8:31).


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Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 1:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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