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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 John 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Throughout this epistle, John repeatedly emphasized the three tests: faith, obedience and love. All three were stressed in 1 John 2, and most of 1 John 3 was devoted to obedience and love. 1 John 4 emphasized faith and love. The three go together, however, as is evident throughout this letter. In the opening paragraph of this chapter (1 John 5:1-5), "faith" (or belief) occurs in 1 John 5:1,4,5; "love" occurs in 1 John 5:1,2,3; and "obey" (keep his commandments) occurs in 1 John 5:2,3. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, however, is established upon testimony, the testimony of three witnesses, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the second paragraph (1 John 5:6-12) lays strong emphasis upon these. Another paragraph is related to boldness in prayer (except in cases where "sin unto death" is present) (1 John 5:13-17); and the letter is concluded by a brief summary and exhortation (1 John 5:18-21).

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. (1 John 5:1)

Whosoever believeth ... also implies obedience or fidelity, there being no intimation whatever in a statement like this that mere faith, or faith only, is equivalent to the new birth. "Believeth" in this place, as frequently in the New Testament, is a synecdoche for a number of closely related actions involved in conversion.

That Jesus is the Christ ... Christianity is grounded in the absolute proposition that Jesus of Nazareth was (is) the Dayspring from on High, God incarnate in human flesh, the promised Messiah of the Hebrews, the "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) who would crush the head of the serpent, whose "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). That incarnate deity identified in the New Testament as "Jesus Christ" is man's unique Saviour, and only those who manifest an obedient faith in him can receive the inestimable privilege of the new birth.

Is begotten of God ... has the meaning of "is born of God," that is, has received the new birth, being raised "to walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-5).

Whosoever loveth him that begat loveth also him that is begotten ... In other words, whosoever loves God, being himself a child of God, loves not God alone but all of God's other children also. John's argument here is a type of compound syllogism called "sorites," but with some of the steps omitted. The entire argument would be something like this:

Everyone with obedient faith in Christ is a child of God.

Every child of God loves the Father.

Therefore, everyone with obedient faith loves God.

Everyone that loves God loves God's children.

Therefore, everyone with obedient faith loves the children of God.


Verse 2

Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments.

John echoed here the teachings of the Master who declared that, "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Love of God, therefore, is the type of regard for the Father that issues in keeping his word and obeying the commandments that he gave. The same is true of love for the brethren. "It is practical and active, and expresses itself in deed and in truth, in sacrificial service."[1] "True Christian love, therefore, is that which proceeds from love to God, and leads us to obey all his commandments."[2] Both with regard to love, as here, and with regard to faith, John's usage of either term always carried inherently the concept of obedience.

[1] John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 173.

[2] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, Vol. VI (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 103.


Verse 3

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

There is no need here to defend John with the declaration that, "he was not a legalist";[3] or to oppose him by alleging that Paul's teaching is opposed to this. It is not opposed to it in any manner; although it is quite true that some of the alleged teachings of Paul are denied by this passage. For example, the notion that, "In Paul's terms Law of Christ means freedom from law,"[4] is nothing but a popular error. Not only John and Paul, but Christ and all of the holy apostles constantly reiterated the fundamental thesis of the New Testament that the people who do the will of God will be saved; and the people who do not do it will be lost. The verse before us is in perfect harmony with the whole New Testament. If people believe that they can bypass this fundamental truth by means of some theological device, they are mistaken.

And his commandments are not grievous ... Wilder suggested that this is contrary to Jesus' words regarding the strait gate, the narrow way, etc.; and it is possible that many have wondered just how to take the words here. There are at least three ways in which John's words are profoundly true: (1) As compared with the onerous burdens of the Law of Moses, called by the apostles themselves "a yoke of bondage which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15:10), the Law of Christ is one of incredible freedom. (2) For that soul who is truly born again, the Lord's commandments are in complete harmony with the natural impulses of his new life in Christ. As Sinclair said:

Were we perfect, we should not find them commands at all, for they would be our natural impulses. The more sincerely we serve God, the more enjoyment we shall derive from obeying him. Only to those whose inclinations are distorted, perverted and corrupted by sin can God's laws seem irksome.[5]

(3) Despite the fact of there being genuine obligations in Christian service, called by Jesus himself "my yoke" (Matthew 11:19), it is in the nature of those precious obligations that they make all other burdens lighter. Christ's service is the "yoke," the carrying device, which enables the wearer to carry unavoidable burdens of life which otherwise would be impossible and would destroy him. See a fuller illustration of this in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 161,162.

Concerning this whole verse, Barclay said, "John reverts to an idea that is never far from the surface of his mind. Obedience is the only proof of love."[6] We might add that it is likewise the only proof of faith.

[3] Leon Morris, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1268.

[4] Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 291.

[5] W. M. Sinclair, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 490.

[6] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 103.


Verse 4

For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.

Whatsoever is begotten of God ... We might have expected John to write "whosoever" etc., but he was speaking not so much of individuals here, as of the new birth. "It is not the man but his birth from God which conquers."[7] The new birth gives one entry into the kingdom of God (John 3:5f). In order to enter, one must be born of water and of the spirit, that is, be baptized into Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. For a more complete discussion of this, see in my Commentary on James, pp. 83-88.

The victory that overcometh the world ... How daringly incredible must such a claim as this have appeared to unbelievers who might have been aware of it! "The world" of that era was the domain of the Caesar's. To all outward appearances, imperial Rome must have looked like the victor. There was not a force on earth (except that of which John wrote) which could stand against Rome, all the nations of the known world of that day being merely the slaves and vassals of the tyrant on the Tiber. Between that organized oppression and the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ there could be no neutrality; either Christ was Lord and would prove himself so to be, or the self-appointed "Gods" of the imperial purple would win the field. Moreover the conflict was very near to being joined when John wrote these words. The terrible persecutions would soon begin under Nero and would last intermittently for nearly 250 years. Eusebius tells us of the final outrage that occurred in the reign of Galerius Augustus:

Christians were flogged until the flesh hung from their bones ... salt or vinegar was poured in their wounds ... their flesh was cut off bit by bit to feed waiting animals ... they were eaten piecemeal by starved beasts ... their fingers were pierced with sharp reed under their nails ... their eyes were gouged out ... they were suspended by a hand or foot ... some had molten lead poured down their throats ... they were beheaded, beaten to death with clubs or crucified ... some were torn asunder by being tied to bent branches of trees (This quotation is from Eusebius by Will Durant, who complained that this could not be verified by pagan sources). Why should pagans have admitted such deeds? There can be no doubt whatever of the truth of these records[8]

Durant stated that the persecutions mentioned above lasted for eight years, involving the death of at least 1,500 people and the brutal abuse of many thousands more; but:

As the brutalities multiplied, the pagan population was stirred ... good citizens expressed themselves against the most ferocious oppression in Roman history ... the people turned against the government ... many pagans risked death to hide or protect Christians ... (and then it happened!) In Galerius, suffering from a mortal illness, convinced of failure, and implored by his wife to make his peace with the undefeated God of the Christians, promulgated an edict of toleration, recognizing Christianity as a lawful religion, and asked the prayers of the Christians in return for "our most gentle clemency!"[9]

Durant summed up the terrible conflict that lasted nearly a quarter of a millennium with the words, "Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won!"[10] History demonstrated the truth of what the apostle John wrote in this verse.

[7] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1057.

[8] Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 652.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.


Verse 5

And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

It was the basic, fundamental conviction of Christians regarding who Christ was (and is) that fed the springs of their courage and determination. They did not believe, merely, that Christ was some great and wonderful teacher, but that he Was God come in the flesh, the lawful ruler of heaven and earth, the Holy One who would at the last day raise all the dead who ever lived and appoint every soul his everlasting destiny. The very expression "Son of God" carries with it the idea of equality with God; and so the Jews of Jesus' day understood it. For example:

Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him ... because he said that God was his Father, making himself equal to God (John 5:18). Christ confessed under oath that he was the Son of God (Mark 114:62), and the Pharisees mad that the crime for which they demanded his crucifixion (John 19:7).

Knowing that he would be put to death for this claim, Jesus carefully avoided making it until he would choose to do so before the Sanhedrin, except in circumstances where his enemies were powerless to use it as the basis of a legal charge of blasphemy. Thus, he spoke freely to the woman at the well of Samaria (John 4) and to the man healed of congenital blindness (John 9), flatly declaring to the latter that he was indeed the Son of God (John 9:35-37). In those two cases, the woman being a Samaritan, and the erstwhile blind man having been thrown out of the synagogue, neither could be recruited by the Sanhedrin as a witness against Christ. By far the favorite designation of himself, on Jesus' part, was "Son of Man," by which he meant everything that Son of God means; but the occasional use of "Son of Man" in the Old Testament to mean any ordinary person (Psalms 8:4) prohibited the Sanhedrin from making a charge based on the title "Son of Man," despite the fact that Christ and his followers, as well as his enemies, perfectly understood that Jesus used the title in the sense of Daniel 10:16, where the title is suggested for one who is divine. For fuller discussion of these two titles, see in my Commentary on James, pp. 54-56.


Verse 6

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

From the times of Tertullian, the more discerning scholars have referred these words to the baptism of Christ in water (as the Greek reads here), and to his crucifixion (aptly described as his coming "in the blood"). Some have seen a reference here to John 19:34; and, as Bruce stated it, "I should not care to deny this."[11] It undoubtedly refers to all of these events; and, even beyond this, it undoubtedly suggested to the apostle the two grand ordinances of the Christian religion: baptism and the Lord's Supper, as indicated by his specific reference to them two verses later. However, the matter at hand in this verse related to the heresy of the Cerinthians who admitted that Jesus was the Christ after his baptism, but denied that he was the Christ in his crucifixion. Again from Bruce:

From their point of view, Christ came by water, but not by blood. Therefore, John emphasized that he came "not with water only, but with the water and with the blood"; with the clear meaning that Jesus was proclaimed as the Son of God as truly in his death as he was in his baptism.[12]

John's refutation of that heresy was as precise and devastating as any that could have been given.

[11] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 133.

[12] Ibid., p. 134.


Verse 7

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.

It is not possible to tell exactly what the apostle had in mind here. He could have been referring to the witness of the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and alighting and remaining upon him at the time of Jesus' baptism, thus witnessing to the divinity and Godhead of Jesus; or, he might have reference to his own inspired testimony. It should be remembered that he was one of the Twelve to whom Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). As Orr noted, "The present tense might be significant here";[13] and that would seem to make the second alternative the preferable view.

ENDNOTE:

[13] R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 619.


Verse 8

For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.

There are three that bear witness ... Note the use of the present tense, contrasting with the past tense of 1 John 5:6, a fact that indicates the three agreeing witnesses as giving their testimony at the time of John's writing and continuously thereafter.

The Spirit ... There is no doubt regarding the identity of this witness, the same being the inspired testimony of the holy apostles of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament; and apart from that New Testament, there is no other authentic written source of the historical events which are the foundation of Christianity. Of the many claims in our own times regarding people claiming to "have the Spirit," not any one of them, nor all of them put together has ever produced a single line of intelligible teaching regarding the holy religion of Christ. In a lesser sense, of course, the earnest of the Holy Spirit given to all believers in Christ on condition of and subsequent to their repentance and baptism imparts the blessed fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, etc. (Galatians 5:22).

And the water ... At the time John wrote, the baptism of Christ could hardly have been spoken of as "witnessing" anything. It was a past event, by a whole generation; and John here spoke of the water as "witnessing" in the present tense. How could this be true? The grand initiatory rite of the Christian religion is a continual witness in all generations of the essential facts of the gospel; namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God. The very form of the ordinance with its burial and resurrection to "walk in newness of life" was designed for that very purpose; and how Satan does hate it! In all ages and communities, a believer's baptism "into Christ" declares the gospel message. It is a continuing witness of almost cosmic dimensions, taking place thousands of thousands of times in every place and at every time throughout history. As Macknight stated it: "The water is the rite of baptism regularly administered in the Christian church to the end of the world."[14]

And the blood ... "The blood signifies the commemoration of the shedding of the blood of Christ for the remission of sins, in the Lord's Supper."[15] As the apostle Paul declared, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death until he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26), thus clearly designating this grand ordinance of the religion of Christ as a continuing witness of the holy gospel until the end of time, "until he come." How could there be any doubt that John spoke of the same thing here?

[14] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 112.

[15] Ibid.


Verse 9

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son.

Here again, there is a dramatic shift of tense, back to the past perfect, and contrasting the witness of people (presently going on when John wrote) with the witness of God (past perfect) delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostles, and through them to all mankind. The meaning would appear to be that: dramatic and powerful as are the witnesses of the great Christian ordinances to the validity and authenticity of the Christian religion, the greater witness is that of God himself through the word of Christ and the apostles, the witness which is the heritage of all people in the New Testament. The witness of God (the New Testament) requires that all people accept Jesus as the Son of God, a fact that John would state immediately.


Verse 10

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son.

Hath the witness in him ... The earnest of the Spirit in Christian hearts is indicated by this (Ephesians 1:13), that holy influence which issues in love, joy and peace. The practical meaning of this is that the Christian experience corroborates the validity of Christianity in the lives of those who accept it and walk in the light of it.

He that believeth not hath made God a liar ... It is no light matter to refuse to believe the divine testimony of the holy Scriptures. "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18 KJV). Profound deductions flow out of a passage like this: (1) The testimony of God regarding his Son is sufficient. (2) Rejection of it is equivalent to giving God himself the lie. (3) The wrath of God is revealed against unbelief.


Verse 11

And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

The sum and circumference of the religion of Christ are encompassed here in a single sentence. All of God's witness for thousands of years in the Bible, all the messages through the holy prophets, all the typical significance of Judaism, and whatever else God did in his dealings with the human race were all directed to a single purpose: the identification of Jesus Christ as his only begotten Son and that priceless gift of eternal life which he brought to people.

Eternal life ... How utterly beyond all human comprehension is such a thing as eternal life! To live forever in joy in God's very presence, to know the Creator, to see the Saviour face to face, to know as we are known - such conceptions can be understood only in part. And yet, this is the essential central message of the faith in Christ.

This life is in his Son ... Here is the Johannine equivalent of the apostle Paul's "in Christ," having exactly the same meaning as a reference to the corporate body of Christians who have believed God's testimony that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and who have been united with Christ in baptism, being baptized "into him" (Galatians 3:26,27). Neither Paul nor John, however, developed or invented this doctrine. It began with Christ himself (John 15:1-10). In this series, a liberal amount of space was devoted to the discussion of "in Christ" in Romans 3; and a much fuller treatment of the doctrine is found there. In a word, eternal life for mankind is promised only to those who are "in Christ" and who shall be "found in him" (Philippians 3:9) at the end of probation. See also Revelation 14:13.


Verse 12

He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life.

He that hath the Son ... means "he that is a Christian." "Hath the life ... This means "eternal life," but the present possession of it must not be understood as the totality of it. See discussion of "Eternal Life" under 1:4, above. The eternal life promised the faithful followers of Jesus Christ is a life uninterrupted by death. Certain qualities of the life eternal, however, are experienced by Christians in the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Plummer has this:

Eternal life is not granted to the whole world, or even to all Christians en masse; it is given to individuals, soul by soul, according as each does or does not accept the Son of God.[16]

ENDNOTE:

[16] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 141.


Verse 13

These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.

These things have I written ... This has reference to the epistle. At the beginning of the letter, John explained the purpose of his writing thus, "These things we write, that our joy may be made full" (1 John 1:4); but the meaning is closely related to this. Their joy (both John's and that of his readers) would be made full in the certain knowledge of the possession of eternal life.

Unto you who believe on the name ... "This is the only place in the whole letter where he speaks of believing on the name, in His full Person, all that the name stands for."[17] This variation, however, conveys no different meaning, really, from that of believing in Christ, or believing on Christ.

With this verse, the final section of 1John begins.

ENDNOTE:

[17] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1269.


Verse 14

And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us;

And this is the boldness ... This is the fourth mention of boldness in this epistle: as pertaining to the judgment in 1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17, and as pertaining to prayer, here, and in 1 John 3:21,22. In a large degree, the Christian is himself responsible for maintaining a confident and winning attitude, an attitude to which he is fully entitled by the glorious endowments and promises of the faith. It is therefore incumbent upon him to speak enthusiastically of his faith and of the joyful service in the Lord, much in the same manner of a good athlete who "talks a good game" with his associates during a contest. The grounds of such confidence which John cited in connection with his admonition is that, after all, our God will answer our prayers! No greater promise could be imagined.

If we ask according to his will ... God's promise of answering prayer, however, is not a blank check, the qualification laid down here being only one of a number of Scriptural limitations on it. Others are: prayers must be offered in faith (Mark 11:24), in the name of Jesus (John 14:14), and by one abiding in Christ (John 15:7). Furthermore, only those who have forgiven (Mark 11:15); and only those whose prayers flow out of an obedient life (1 John 3:22), and who will not use their blessings for the gratification of their lusts and passions (James 4:3), may properly claim in confidence the answer of their prayers.


Verse 15

and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.

The meaning of this is only slightly different from Jesus' words, "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). Perhaps the principal confidence to be derived from this promise is simply that, "We simply know that from all that he has promised that he does not ignore our requests."[18] When it may appear that our prayers have not been answered, we can be positively certain that the reason is harmonious with God's love of his children, and that it is grounded in what God knows is best for them.

ENDNOTE:

[18] J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John and Jude (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1968), p. 139.


Verse 16

If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.

If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death ... Presumably, this would be any kind of sin except apostasy; but what makes this passage difficult is the problem of Christian brothers monitoring each other's behavior. The ability always to know when a brother is sinning is not in Christians; and that fact limits the admonition here to what is clearly visible to all and unmistakable.

And God will give him life for them ... Before Christians may be forgiven of their sins, they themselves must repent and ask the Father's mercy and pardon; therefore, God's giving life for them that sin cannot be solely upon the grounds of another's asking it. Perhaps that limitation is understood in John's promise here of such great efficacy in the prayers of Christians for one another.

For them that sin not unto death ... There are a number of New Testament passages that deal with the "sin unto death," namely, the passage here, 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 5:6; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26,27; 2 Peter 2:20,21, and Mark 3:29 with parallel in Matthew. For a complete discussion of this question see in my Commentary on Mark, pp. 65-67, and, in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 173-175, and, in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 125-128. Briefly stated, the sin unto death is that which results in the total apostasy of the sinner, leading to a state which is hopeless, not because of any limitation on God's part, but because of the will of the sinner not to accept pardon.

I do not say that he should make request ... This carries the meaning of, "Let him not pray for it."[19]

We have already pointed out that in all ordinary circumstances, no Christian could possibly know whether or not one had committed a sin "unto death" or not; and, with that in mind, the interpretation of Bruce on this difficult passage is certainly entitled to be studied.

He wrote:

I suggest that the sin unto death is quite literally a sin with death as its consequence; and the only way in which it may be known that a sin is "unto death" is if death actually ensues. What John is doing, in that case, is to make it plain that he does not advocate praying for the dead.[20]

Bruce's understanding of this seems to this writer the most reasonable of all the explanations encountered. Bruce admitted the possibility that apostasy could be the thing in view, adding "but this I doubt." The explanation advocated by him would certainly solve the problem of a brother's "seeing" whether or not sin was "unto death"; and, in the context, this would appear to be determinative.

Plummer, and others who favor the view that apostasy is meant, have written some very helpful words regarding the power of apostates to rebel against God and spurn his love. For example:

The prayer of one human being can never cancel another's free-will. If God's will does not override man's will, neither can a fellow-man's prayer. When a human will has been firmly and persistently set in opposition to the Divine will, our intercession will be of no avail.[21]

Macknight limited the meaning of this verse to those situations in the early church which were analogous to that mentioned in James 4:14f, affirming that this verse is directed not to ordinary Christians at all, but to:

Any spiritual man (endowed with the charismatic gift of healing diseases); and that the brother for whom the spiritual man was to ask life, was not every brother who had sinned, but the brother only who had been punished with a mortal disease; but who having repented of his sin, it was not a sin unto death; and that the life to be asked and received on behalf of such a brother was not eternal life at all, but a miraculous recovery from the mortal disease from which he was suffering.[22]

In support of his thesis, which may indeed be correct, Macknight argued that the clause, "And God will give him life for them" could not possibly refer to eternal life, since "Nowhere in Scripture is eternal life promised to be given to any sinner, at the asking of another."[23]

Having given three different interpretations of this difficult Scripture, we shall leave it as one that might reasonably bear any of the three explanations. There are difficult questions connected with any view of it.

Before leaving this verse, it should be pointed out, however, that:

To divide sins, on the authority of this passage, into venial and mortal classifications, is to misunderstand the whole argument of the Epistle and to seduce the conscience. St. John only means that though prayer can do much for an erring brother, there is a willfulness against which it would be powerless: for even prayer is not stronger than free-will.[24]

[19] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec. R. Allenson, Inc., reprint, 1950), p. 919.

[20] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 134.

[21] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 142.

[22] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 118.

[23] Ibid., p. 119.

[24] W. M. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 493.


Verse 17

All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

After all that John had written in this letter regarding the divine prohibition against Christians' sinning, it is clear from this that he fully allowed for the fact of sin, even in the most devoted heart. Ryrie is no doubt correct in seeing this verse as a "warning against the lax thinking that some sins are permissible and others (unto death) not."[25] Any sin is unrighteousness, contrary to the will of God; and any sin, however mild it may be thought to be, is potentially capable of causing the death of the soul; and the manner of the two major clauses of this sentence being balanced against each other indicates that John had that very thing in mind here. In connection with this, it will be remembered that "an eternal sin" (Mark 3:28,29) indicates a multiplicity of transgressions that must be considered potentially "eternal sins." In fact, any sin whatever that might be loved more than the Lord, could prove to be "eternal."

ENDNOTE:

[25] Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1028.


Verse 18

We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not.

Keepeth himself ... The ASV marginal note on this is: "Some ancient authorities read him instead of himself." This change from the KJV was adopted in RSV, Phillips, New English Bible (1961), Weymouth, and Goodspeed. The New English Bible, although not a translation in the strict sense, nevertheless appears to give the meaning thus:

We know that no child of God is a sinner; it is the Son of God who keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot touch him.

Sinneth not ... This may not, in any absolute sense, be said of any Christian; and yet John affirmed it here. How then is it the truth? Simply because, in the broad outlines of the Christ-centered life it is profoundly true in the relative, if not in the absolute sense. "The heathen is the man who has been defeated by sin and has accepted defeat. The Christian is the man who may sin but never accepts the fact of defeat."[26]

He that was begotten of God ... The importance of this change from "himself" to "him" as noted above is seen here. If "him" is the right reading, then this clause is a reference to the Son of God; but if "himself' is correct, this clause refers to Christians. The meaning given by the change is far better, because it is only in a very limited way that any man can "keep himself." The concept of Jesus keeping them whom he has received from the Father is fully in harmony with John 17:12.

It is the Son of God who keeps him safe ... This rendition (New English Bible) stresses that the Christian's safety is not of himself but of the Lord. Jesus promised that he would be with his followers "even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20), and a glimpse of that providence is in this.

And the evil one toucheth him not ... On almost every page of the New Testament, the spiritual foe of Christians is identified, not as a mere principle, but as personal, intelligent, malignant and cunning. Current theology which does not take this into account is hopelessly crippled. In the modern departure from New Testament teaching on this subject lies much of the incompetence which has fallen upon so-called "Christianity" today.

ENDNOTE:

[26] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 121.


Verse 19

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one.

We know ... This is the second of three great certainties stressed by the apostle in 1 John 5:18-20: (1) We know that we are guarded from the evil one by Jesus Christ our Lord. (2) We know that we belong to God in a hostile, Satan dominated world. (3) We know the great basic of divine revelation, especially the Incarnation of God in Christ.

That we are of God ... To what other source, indeed, could the joyful life in Jesus Christ be attributed? Those who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come are in no doubt whatever regarding the fountain source of their blessings.

The whole world ... Here the word "world" does not apply to the natural creation at all, but to the evil inhabitants of the world who continue under the dominion of the evil one. Macknight defined these as, "the idolaters, infidels and wicked men, who having made themselves the subjects of the devil ... they lie under the wicked one, and are under his dominion."[27]

Lieth in the evil one ... Calvin's comment on this was: "By saying that it lieth in the evil one, he represented it as being under the dominion of Satan."[28] Of particular interest is the word "lieth" as used here.

Because Homer used the word (lieth) to denote the bodies of men lying on the ground slain, Doddridge thinks the apostle, by using the word here, represents the wicked men of the world as lying slain by the devil, to give us an affecting idea of the miserable and helpless state of mankind fallen by the stroke of that malicious merciless enemy.[29]

Paul's references to being dead in trespasses and sins, etc., are also fully in harmony with this conception.

The following New Testament references regarding Satan are examples of the extensive Biblical teaching regarding the devil:

The prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now inwardly worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).

The god of this world (who) blinds the eyes of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Our adversary going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

(Wicked men) are held in the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26).

We are not ignorant of (the devil's) wicked devices (Ephesians 6:11).

Through his subtlety (Satan) seduced the mother of all living (Eve) (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Christians are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God's love (Colossians 1:13).SIZE>

[27] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 124.

[28] John Calvin (quoted by A. Plummer), op. cit., p. 143.

[29] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 125.


Verse 20

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

This is the third of the three great certainties with which John concluded his epistle; and it is rather an extensive certainty. Note:

We know that the Son of God is come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

He hath given us an understanding (of all things that pertain to life and godliness).

We know Christ who is the true one.

We are "in Christ," having believed in him and having been baptized into the "one body," Christ's spiritual body.

This is the true God (an unqualified designation of Jesus Christ as God).

As a result of Christ's redemptive work, we enjoy eternal life (presently, in the joys of Christian service, and ultimately, throughout all eternity).SIZE>

The dispute among scholars as to whether the last sentence of this verse is an affirmation of Christ's deity or not may be resolved quite easily: (1) Grammatically, there can hardly be any doubt the "true God" is a reference to Christ. (2) Theologically, it is absolutely in keeping with all that John wrote, both here and in the Gospel, to read it as a reference to Christ; and that is exactly the meaning this writer has always understood as being in the verse. Due to the extensive New Testament teaching elsewhere affirming in the most unequivocal manner the deity of the Son of God, we are compelled to agree with Plummer who wrote that, "It is of not much moment whether this particular text contains the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ or not";[30] and, of course, this is surely true in a sense. However, the very prevalence of the doctrine so frequently in view throughout the rest of the New Testament should also enter into one's willingness to see it here. It is exactly what one should have expected from the apostle John. The very discerning scholar, J. W. Roberts, pointed out the use of "eternal life" in this whole paragraph. Indeed, throughout the epistle, the fact of Jesus himself being "eternal life" is reiterated. "Jesus is eternal life."[31] With that in mind, we may view the affirmation of Christ's deity here as "the climax of John's claim for the person and work of Jesus Christ in this epistle, just as Thomas' exclamation, My Lord and my God (John 20:28) is the climax of the Gospel."[32]

[30] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 143.

[31] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 147.

[32] Ibid., p. 148.


Verse 21

My little children, guard yourselves from idols.

The simple and obvious meaning of this is, "Keep yourselves from the pollutions of heathen worship."[33] Some of John's readers probably lived in Ephesus (where John himself labored); and all of the great pagan cities of that period (including Ephesus) were strongholds of paganism. As Plummer said, "Where the literal interpretation makes good sense, the literal interpretation is probably right."[34] And, taking Ephesus as an example of all the great cities of that era, such an exhortation certainly makes good sense.

Ephesus was dominated by the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians, that temple being the center of immorality and licentiousness. The temple institution was a force of incredible power in pagan civilization. The right of sanctuary for criminals of all classes had crowded it with the vilest men on earth. It was the financial center of the pagan culture, occupying about the same status in that ancient culture that the Bank of England enjoyed during the 19th century. "To have anything to do with the Temple of Diana was to be associated with the very dregs of society ... and to be brought into contact with commercialized superstition and the black arts."[35]

Beyond the literal and immediate application of this final apostolic edict, however, the spiritual overtones of such an admonition are universal and timeless. No Christian must ever set up in his heart any idol which usurps the place rightfully belonging to the Lord. The gods of the ancients lie buried under the debris of millenniums; but people still worship sex, gold, wealth, power, fame, "success," youth, humanity, self, pleasure, wine, or even their families, instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. The citadel of the heart belongs to the Son of God who died for us and loosed us from our sins in his blood. The final word of this epistle is directed to the guardianship of that citadel. May the child of God never forget that it belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.

[33] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 123.

[34] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 143.

[35] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 125.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-john-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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