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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
1 John 5



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων. Every one that believeth: the construction is identical with that in 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:3-4; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 4:7, and in the second half of this verse. See first note on 1 John 3:3. The verb πιστεύω which occurs only three times in the rest of the Epistle, occurs six times in these first 13 verses. After the third verse the word ‘love’, which has been the keyword of the last two chapters, ceases to appear. With the first sentence comp. John 1:12.

The verse is a couple of syllogisms condensed into an irregular Sorites.

Every one who believes the Incarnation is a child of God.

Every child of God loves its Father.

*** Every believer in the Incarnation loves God.

Every believer in the Incarnation loves God.

Every one who loves God loves the children of God.

*** Every believer in the Incarnation loves the children of God.

To believe that Jesus is the Christ is to believe that One who was known as a man fulfilled a known and Divine commission; that He who was born and was crucified is the Anointed, the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world. To believe this is to accept both the Old and the New Testaments; it is to believe that Jesus is what He claimed to be, One who is equal with the Father, and as such demands of every believer the absolute surrender of self to Him. Belief without love is, as S. Augustine remarks, the belief of a demon (James 2:19).

γεγέννηται. As R.V., is begotten, for the sake of uniformity in this verse and elsewhere. A good deal is lost if γεγέννηται, γεννήσαντα and γεγεννημένον are not translated alike. See on 1 John 5:18.

τὸν γεγεννημένον. Not Christ, but any believer, as the next verse shews. “Since God regenerates us by faith, He must be loved by us as a Father: and this love embraces all His children” (Calvin). Here again the verb may be either the indicative or the hortative subjunctive; and, as in 1 John 4:19, the indicative is preferable: ‘loveth’ rather than ‘let him love’.

This verse shews that 1 John 4:20 ought not to be interpreted to mean that through love of the invisible brother we ascend to the love of the invisible God. On the contrary the love of the Father is the source of love of His children. “That is the natural order; that, we may say it confidently, is the universal order” (Maurice).

Verses 1-12


Verse 2

2. The converse of the truth insisted upon in 1 John 4:20-21 is now stated. Their love and obedience to God were shewn to involve love of His children: here love of God’s children is said to follow from our love and obedience to God. The two (or three) ideas mutually imply one another. Love to God implies obedience, and either of these implies love of His children, which again implies the other two. In short, love to God and love to the brethren confirm and prove each other. If either is found alone, it is not genuine. Fellowship with God and fellowship one with another (1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:7) necessarily exist together. A man may be conscious of kindliness towards others and yet doubt whether he is fulfilling the law of brotherly love. For such the Apostle gives this test, ‘Do you love God? Do you strive to obey Him? If so your love of others is of the right kind’. For the characteristic phrase ‘keep His commandments’ see on 1 John 2:3 : but here the true reading seems to be do His commandments, a phrase which occurs nowhere else. This reading is supported by [839], all ancient Versions, and several Fathers. Note the ‘when’, or more literally, ‘whenever’ (ὅταν): whenever we love and obey we have fresh evidence that our philanthropy is Christian. Nowhere else in these Epistles does ὅταν occur.

Verse 3

3. αὕτη γάρ ἐστιν.This is what it tends towards; this is its outcome’: see on 1 John 1:5. Love implies obedience. Comp. John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23; John 15:10; 2 John 1:6. For ἵνα comp. John 6:29; John 17:3; 2 John 1:6.

βαρεῖαι οὐκ εἰσίν. For three reasons: 1. Because He gives us strength to bear them; juvat qui jubet (Philippians 4:13); 2. Because of the greatness of the reward—πρὸς τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν (Romans 8:18); 3. Because love makes them light; dilige et quod vis fac (Augustine). They are not like the ‘burdens grievous to be borne’ which the legal rigour of the Pharisees laid on men’s consciences. Here again we have an echo of the Master’s words: ‘My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30).

Verse 4

4. Reason why keeping even the difficult commandment of loving others rather than oneself is not a grievous burden. It is the world and its ways which makes the Divine commands grievous, and the new birth involved in faith gives us a new unworldly nature and a strength which conquers the world. Without this new nature and strength we should find God’s commandments, in spite of their reasonableness, intolerable.

ὅτι πᾶν τὸ γεγ. ἐκ τ. Θ. Because whatsoever is begotten of God: see on 1 John 5:1. The collective neuter, ‘whatsoever’, gives the principle a wide sweep by stating it in its most abstract form: comp. John 6:37; John 17:2. Moreover, whereas the masculine would make the victorious person prominent, the neuter emphasizes rather the victorious power. It is not the man, but his birth from God, which conquers. In 1 John 5:1 we had the masculine and in 1 John 5:18 return to the masculine again. In all three cases we have the perfect, not the aorist, participle. It is not the mere fact of having received the Divine birth that is insisted on, but the permanent results of the birth. Comp. John 3:6; John 3:8, where we have the same tense and a similar change from neuter to masculine.

ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τ. κ. The victory that overcame the world: aorist participle of a victory won once for all. Under the influence of the Vulgate (quae vincit mundum) Wiclif, Luther, Tyndale and others, all have the present tense here. Faith, which is ‘the proof of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1) which ‘are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18), has won a decisive victory over the world which is visible and which ‘is passing away’ (1 John 2:17). Faith is both the victory and the victor. Illa nimirum fides quae per dilectionem operatur. Illa fides, qua ejus humiliter auxilium flagitamus, qui ait … confidite, ego vici mundum (Bede). Πίστις occurs nowhere else in these Epistles, nor in the Gospel; νίκη nowhere else in N.T. Note the characteristic repetition of τὸν κόσμον, thrice in two verses, and always in the sense of the great human tradition of indifference or antagonism to God. See on 1 John 2:2.

Verse 5

5. τίς ἐστιν ὁ νικῶν. Here the present tense is right. The Apostle appeals to the daily experience of every victorious Christian. [840] inserts a δέ after ἐστιν, [841] after τίς: so also Luther, Wer ist aber. The faith that conquers is no mere vague belief in the existence of God, but a definite belief in the Incarnation: comp. 1 John 5:1; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:2-3. For the form of question comp. 1 John 2:22 : this verse shews that ‘the liar’ (ὁ ψεύστης) there does not mean ‘the supreme liar’, for ‘he that overcometh’ (ὁ νικῶν) cannot mean ‘the supreme conqueror’. The one sole Victor, who is such in the highest and unique sense, is Christ. Comp. ‘Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). Belief in Christ is at once belief in God and in man. It lays a foundation for love and trust towards our fellow men. Thus the instinctive distrust and selfishness, which reign supreme in the world, are overcome. Comp. the Sarum Collect for Trinity Sunday, weakened by Cosin in 1661, quaesumus ut ejusdem fidei firmitate ab omnibus semper muniamur adversis. Our Creed is our spear and shield.

Verse 6

6. οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐλθών. Closely connected with what precedes. ‘This Son of God is He that came’. The identity of the historic person Jesus with the eternal Son of God is once more insisted upon as the central and indispensable truth of the Christian faith. Faith in this truth is the only faith that can overcome the world and give eternal life. And it is a truth attested by witness of the highest and most extraordinary kind.

δι ̓ ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος. Literally, by means of or through water and blood. This is the most perplexing passage in the Epistle and one of the most perplexing in N.T. A very great variety of interpretations have been suggested. It would be simply confusing to discuss them all; but a few of the principal explanations, and the reasons for adopting the one preferred, may be stated with advantage. The water and the blood have been interpreted to mean:—

[1] The Baptism by means of water in the Jordan and the Death by means of blood upon the Cross.

[2] The water and blood which flowed from Christ’s pierced side.

[3] Purification and Redemption (λουτρόν and λύτρον).

[4] The Sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist.

These are fairly representative interpretations; the first two making the water and blood refer to facts in the earthly career of the Messiah; the last two making them symbolical of mysteries. It will be observed that these explanations are not all exclusive one of another: either of the last two may be combined with either of the first two; and in fact the fourth is not unfrequently combined with the second. The second, which is S. Augustine’s, has recently received the support of the Speaker’s Commentary and of Canon F. W. Farrar in The Early Days of Christianity: but in spite of its attractiveness it appears to be scarcely tenable. The difficult passage in John 19:34 and the difficult passage before us do not really explain one another. That “in these two passages alone, of all Scripture, are blood and water placed together,” would, if true, amount to nothing more than a presumption that one may be connected with the other. And such a presumption would be at once weakened by the change of order: instead of the ‘blood and water’ of the Gospel we have ‘water and blood’ here. But the statement is not true; e.g., five times in Exodus 7:17-25; ‘He took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man’ (Matthew 27:24); ‘He shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water’ (Leviticus 14:52); ‘He took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop,’ &c. (Hebrews 9:19). And is it credible that S. John would speak of effusions from the dead body of Jesus as the Son of God “coming through water and blood”? Moreover, what, on this interpretation, can be the point of the emphatic addition, ‘not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood’? At the piercing of the side it was the water, not the blood, that was so marvellous. So that, to make the reference clear, the whole ought to run somewhat in this manner: ‘This is He that shed forth blood and water, even Jesus Christ; not the blood only, but the blood and the water’.

The first of the four explanations is far more tenable, and is adopted by Bede, but not to the entire exclusion of the second. So also Dr Westcott, who thinks the additional reference to John 19:34 “beyond question”. The Baptism in the water of Jordan and the Death by the shedding of blood sum up the work of redemption. Christ’s Baptism, with the Divine proclamation of Him as the Son of God and the Divine outpouring of the Spirit upon Him, is not merely the opening but the explanation of the whole of His Ministry. The bloody death upon the Cross is not merely the close but the explanation of His Passion. ‘Coming’ when spoken of the Christ includes the notion of His mission (John 1:15; John 1:27; John 1:30; John 3:31; John 6:14; John 7:27; John 7:31; John 7:41, &c., &c.). Therefore, when we are told that the Son of God ‘came by means of water and blood’, we may reasonably understand this as meaning that He fulfilled His mission by the Baptism with which His public work began and the bloody Death with which He finished it (John 19:30). [1] This interpretation explains the order; ‘water and blood’, not ‘blood and water’. [2] It explains the first preposition; ‘through’ or ‘by means of’ (διά with the genitive: comp. the remarkable parallel Hebrews 9:12). [3] It also explains the second preposition; ‘in’ (ἐν, of the element in which, without the notion of means: comp. the remarkable parallel Hebrews 9:25). Christ’s Baptism and Death were in one sense the means by which, in another sense the spheres in which His work was accomplished. [4] Above all it explains the emphatic addition, ‘not in water only, but in the water and in the blood’. The Gnostic teachers, against whom the Apostle is writing, admitted that the Christ came ‘through’ and ‘in’ water: it was precisely at the Baptism, they said, that the Divine Word united Himself with the man Jesus. But they denied that the Divine Person had any share in what was effected ‘through’ and ‘in’ blood: for according to them the Word departed from Jesus at Gethsemane. S. John emphatically assures us that there was no such separation. It was the Son of God who was baptized; and it was the Son of God who was crucified: and it is faith in this vital truth that produces brotherly love, that overcomes the world, and is eternal life.

It may reasonably be admitted, however, that there is this large amount of connexion between the ‘water and blood’ here and the ‘blood and water’ in the Gospel. Both in a symbolical manner point to the two great sacraments. Thus Tertullian says, “He had come by means of water and blood, just as John had written; that He might be baptized by the water, glorified by the blood; to make us in like manner called by water, chosen by blood. These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed in the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood’ (De Bapt. xvi.).

οὐκ ἐν τῷ ὕδ. μ., ἀλλ. ἐν τῷ ὕδ. κ. ἐν τῷ αἵμ. As R.V., not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. The ἐν marks the element or sphere in which the thing is done. The use of ἐν here and Hebrews 9:25 may, however, come direct from LXX. Comp. εἰσελεύσεται Ἀαρὼν εἰς τὸ ἅγιον ἐν μόσχῳ ἐκ βοῶν περὶ ἀμαρτίας (Leviticus 16:3), of the ceremonies on the great Day of Atonement. The Hebrew may mean ‘in’, ‘with’, or ‘by’. The article here in all three places means ‘the water’ and ‘the blood’ already mentioned.

As applied to us these words will mean, ‘Christ came not merely to purify by His baptism, but to give new life by His blood; “for the blood is the life”.’ In short, all that is said in the Gospel, especially in chapters 3 and 6, respecting water and blood may be included here. The Epistle is the companion treatise of the Gospel.

καὶ τὸ πν. ἐστιν τὸ μαρτ. Here again there are great diversities of interpretation. S. Augustine, who makes the water and blood refer to the effusions of Christ’s side, takes ‘the spirit’ to mean the spirit which He committed to His Father at His death (John 19:30; Luke 23:46). But in what sense could Christ’s human spirit be said to be ‘the Truth’? Far more probably it is the Holy Spirit that is meant (1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13; John 1:32-33; John 7:39; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29, &c.). Bede takes this view and understands the witness of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism to be meant. The form of the sentence is exactly parallel to τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζωοποιοῦν (John 6:63). We might render in each case, ‘The spirit is the life-giver’, ‘And the Spirit is the witness-bearer’. The Spirit bears witness in two ways: 1. in Scripture; 2. by His action on the wills of men. “The evidence for the Resurrection was not stronger on the Day of Pentecost than it was on the day before. But the Descent of the Spirit made it morally possible for three thousand converts to do that evidence something like justice” (Liddon).

τὸ μαρτυροῦν. We have seen already (note on 1 John 1:2) that witness to the truth in order to produce faith is one of S. John’s leading thoughts in Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation. Here it becomes the dominant thought: the word ‘witness’ (verb or substantive) occurs ten times in five verses. In the Gospel we have seven witnesses to Christ; Scripture (John 5:39-47), the Baptist (1 John 1:7), the Disciples (John 15:27; John 16:30), Christ’s works (John 5:36; John 10:25; John 10:38), Christ’s words (John 8:14; John 8:18; John 18:37), the Father (John 5:37; John 8:18), the Spirit (John 15:26). Of these seven three are specially mentioned in the Epistle, the Disciples in 1 John 1:2, the Father in 1 John 5:9-10, and the Spirit here; but to these are added two more, the water and the blood.

ὅτι τὸ πν. κ.τ.λ. It would be possible to translate ‘It is the Spirit that beareth witness that the Spirit is the truth’: but this self-attestation of the Spirit would have no relation to the context. (Comp. 1 John 2:12-14, where ὅτι is six times capable of either rendering.) It is the witnesses to Christ, to the identity of Jesus with the Son of God, that S. John is marshalling before us. It is because the Spirit is the Truth that His testimony is irrefragable: He can neither deceive nor be deceived. He is ‘the Spirit of Truth’ (John 14:16; John 15:26), and He glorifies the Christ, taking of His and declaring it unto the Church (John 16:14).

There is a remarkable Latin reading, quoniam Christus est veritas, ‘It is the Spirit that beareth witness that the Christ is the Truth,’ but it has no authority. Westcott suspects a confusion between XPC (Χριστός) and SPS (Spiritus).

Verse 7

7. For a discussion of the famous interpolation respecting the Three Heavenly Witnesses, see Appendix D. The Revisers have only performed an imperative duty in excluding it from both text and margin. Three facts ought never to be forgotten: and one of them singly would be decisive; combined they are irresistible. 1. Not a single Greek Codex earlier than the fourteenth century contains the passage. 2. Not one of the Greek or Latin Fathers ever quotes the passage in conducting the controversies about the Trinity in the first four and a half centuries. 3. No Version earlier than the fifth century contains the passage, and, excepting the Latin, none earlier than the fourteenth.

τρεῖς εἰσὶν οἱ μαρτ. These who bear witness are three. For μαρτυρεῖν see on 1 John 1:2. S. John does not say merely οἱ μάρτυρες but οἱ μαρτυροῦντες. They are not merely witnesses who might be called: they are perpetually delivering their testimony. The masculine points to the personality of the Spirit. The Apostle is answering the misgivings of those who fancied that when he, the last of the Apostles, was taken from them, the Church would possess only second-hand evidence, and a tradition ever growing fainter, as to the Person and Mission of the Christ. ‘Nay’, says he, ‘evidence at first-hand is ever present, and each believer has it in himself’ (1 John 5:10). Comp. John 15:26.

It is very doubtful whether the Trinity is even remotely symbolized. Perhaps S. John wishes to give the full complement of evidence recognised by law (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15; comp. John 8:17).

Verse 8

8. τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἶμα. These of course have the same meaning as before; Christ’s Baptism and Death. “The real value of our Lord’s baptism and His death may be estimated by supposing that neither had taken place, and that our Lord had appeared on His mission without openly confessing His mission from God in submitting to the baptism of John; or that He had died quietly, as other men die” (Jelf).

καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν. Literally, and the three are (united) into the one; or, are for the one object of establishing this truth. This may mean either that they are joined so as to become one witness, or that they co-operate in producing one result. “The trinity of witnesses furnish one testimony”. ‘To be one’ (ἕν εἶναι) occurs John 10:30; John 17:11; John 17:21-22, and (εἶς ἐστε) Galatians 3:28 : ‘into one’ (εἰς ἕν) occurs John 11:52; John 17:23 : but ‘to be into one’ or ‘to be into the one’ occurs nowhere else in N.T. Τὸ ἕν here has been made into an argument for the genuineness of 1 John 5:7. It is said that ‘the one’ plainly implies that ‘one’ has preceded. But this lands us in absurdity by making ‘one’ in 1 John 5:8 mean the same as ‘one’ in 1 John 5:7. ‘One’ in 1 John 5:7. means ‘one Substance’, the ‘Unity in Trinity’. But what sense can ‘The spirit, the water, and the blood agree in the Unity in Trinity’ yield?

Verse 9

9. εἰ τ. μαρτ. τ. ἀνθρ. λαμβάνομεν.If we receive such testimony—and it is quite notorious that we do so’. Comp. εἰ οὕτως ὁ Θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς (1 John 4:11). In neither case does εἰ imply any doubt about the fact. See on 2 John 1:10. The argument is a fortiori and reads like an echo of that of Christ to the Pharisees ‘In your law it is written that the witness of two men is true’ (John 8:17); how much more therefore the witness of the Father and the Son? For λαμβάνειν in the sense of ‘accept as valid’, comp. John 3:11; John 3:32-33.

ὅτι αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτ. Because the witness of God is this (see on 1 John 1:5). This first ὅτι is elliptical. ‘I say the witness of God, because …’, or, ‘I use this argument, because …’, Winer, 774. The second ὅτι ([842][843][844] and most Versions) is less easy, and hence the corruption to the simple ἥν. This ὅτι may be epexegetic of αὕτη, or epexegetic of μαρτυρία, or parallel to the first ὅτι. The first of these possibilities seems best: that He hath borne witness. ‘I appeal to the witness of God, because (ὅτι) the witness of God is this, that (ὅτι) He hath borne witness concerning His Son’. ΄αρτυρεῖν περὶ is frequent in the Gospel (John 1:8; John 1:15; John 2:25; John 5:31-32; John 5:36-37; John 5:39, &c.). The perfect, as so constantly in S. John, gives the permanent result of a past act: the testimony still abides. Comp. ὁ ἑωρακὼς μεμαρτύρηκενἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς πιστεύσητε (John 19:35).

Verses 9-11

9–11. S. John’s characteristic repetition of the word ‘witness’ is greatly weakened in A.V. by the substitution of ‘testify’ in 1 John 5:9, and ‘record’ in 1 John 5:10-11 : see on 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:15; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:5.

Verse 10

10. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τ. υἱὸν τ. Θ. The present participle again indicates what is habitual: not a transitory conviction (ὁ πιστεύσας), but a permanent attitude of faith (1 John 2:10; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 3:3-4; 1 John 3:6-8, &c.). For the first time in this Epistle we have the full phrase πιστεύειν εἰς, of which S. John is so fond in his Gospel, where it occurs nearly 40 times. Elsewhere in N.T. it occurs only about 10 times. It expresses the strongest confidence and trust; faith moves towards and reposes on its object. Whereas ‘to believe a person’ (πιστεύειν τινί) need mean no more than to believe what he says (1 John 4:1), ‘to believe on or in a person’ (πιστεύειν εἴς τινα) means to have full trust in his character.

ἔχει τὴν μαρτυρίαν. Some authorities add τοῦ Θεοῦ, which is right as an interpretation, though not as a part of the text. He has it as an abiding possession (John 5:38; Hebrews 10:34): ἔχει does not mean merely ‘he accepts it’. Comp. ‘The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God’ (Romans 8:16); ‘God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6).

ἐν αὐτῷ. The differences of reading here, ἐν αὐτῷ, ἐν αὑτῷ, ἐν ἑαντῷ, are immaterial: ‘in him’ in this context cannot mean anything but ‘in himself.’ The external witness faithfully accepted becomes internal certitude. Our faith in the Divinity of Christ attests its own Divine origin, for we could not have obtained it otherwise than from God. “The human mind is made for truth, and so rests in truth, as it cannot rest in falsehood. When then it once becomes possessed of a truth, what is to dispossess it? But this is to be certain; therefore once certitude, always certitude. If certitude in any matter be the termination of all doubt or fear about its truth, and an unconditional conscious adherence to it, it carries with it an inward assurance, strong though implicit, that it shall never fail.” (J. H. Newman).

ὁ μὴ πιστεύων τῷ Θεῷ. He that has not even enough faith to induce him to believe what God says (see first note on this verse). There are great diversities of reading here; ‘God,’ ‘the Son’, ‘the Son of God’, ‘His Son’, ‘Jesus Christ’: of these ‘God’ ([845][846][847][848][849]) is certainly to be preferred. The others have arisen from a wish to make ‘he that believeth not’ more exactly balance ‘he that believeth’. But, as we have repeatedly seen, S. John’s antitheses seldom balance exactly. Yet it is by no means impossible that all five are wrong, and that we ought simply to read ‘He that believeth not hath made Him a liar’: comp. John 3:18, of which this verse seems to be an echo. In ‘he that believeth not’, the case is stated quite generally and indefinitely (ὁ μὴ πιστεύων): the Apostle is not pointing at some one person who was known as not believing (ὁ οὐ πιστεύων); comp. 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:20; 1 John 5:12. But in the second clause the point of view becomes one of fact and not of mere possibility; ὅτι οὐ πεπίστευκεν. Contrast ὅτι υὴ πεπίστευκεν (John 3:18). Winer, 594. For the antithetic parallelism comp. 1 John 5:12; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:27.

ψεύστην πεποίηκεν αὐτόν. See on 1 John 1:10. He has given God the lie as to His whole scheme of redemption. οὐ πεπίστευκενμεμαρτύρηκεν. As R.V., hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne. See on 1 John 1:2. The perfect in both cases indicates a permanent result. He has been and remains an unbeliever in the witness which God has given and continually supplies concerning His Son. Πιστεύειν εἰς τὴν μαρτυρίαν occurs nowhere else in N.T. Usually we have πιστ. τῇ μ. See on 1 John 3:23.

Verse 11

11. καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτ. As R.V., And the witness is this, as in 1 John 5:9 : this is what the external witness of God, when it is internally appropriated by the believer, consists in; viz. the Divine gift of eternal life.

ζωὴν αἰώνιον. See on 1 John 1:2 and on John 3:36; John 5:24. Ἔδωκεν is literally gave; but perhaps this is a case in which the English perfect may represent the Greek aorist. But at any rate ‘gave’ must not be weakened into ‘offered’, still less into ‘promised’. The believer already possesses eternal life.

καὶ αὕτη ἡ ζωὴ κ.τ.λ. This is a new independent statement, coordinate with the first clause: it is not, like the second clause, dependent upon the first. Eternal life has its seat and source in the Son, who is the ‘Prince’ or ‘Author of life’ (Acts 3:15): see on John 1:4; John 5:26.

Verse 12

12. A deduction from the preceding clause. If the Son has the life in Himself, then whoever has the Son has the life, and no man can have the one without the other. ‘To have the Son’ must be compared with ‘to have the Father’ in 1 John 2:23. In both cases ‘have’ signifies possession in living union through faith.

ἔχει τὴν ζωήν. As R.V., hath the life; not merely ‘the life just mentioned’, or ‘the life which God gave us’, but the life which in the full sense of the word is such.

ὁ μὴ ἔχων. As in 1 John 5:10, the negative alternative is stated generally and indefinitely (μή not οὐ). The addition of τοῦ θεοῦ is neither fortuitous nor pleonastic. Those who possess Him know that He is the Son of God; those who do not, need to be reminded Whose Son it is that they reject.

The verse constitutes another close parallel with the Gospel: comp. the last words of the Baptist (John 3:36).

Verse 13

13. ταῦτα ἔγραψα. ‘These things’ will cover the whole Epistle, and such is probably the meaning, as in 1 John 1:4, where S. John states the purpose of his Epistle in words which are explained by what he says here: there is nothing there or here, as there is in 1 John 2:26, to limit ‘these things’ to what immediately precedes. As in 1 John 2:21; 1 John 2:26, ἔγραψα is the epistolary aorist, which may be represented in English either by the present or the perfect.

In the remainder of the verse the divergences of reading are very considerable, and authorities are much divided. The original text seems to be that represented by [850]1[851], which has been adopted in R.V. These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life,—unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God. The awkwardness of the explanatory clause added at the end has led to various expedients for making the whole run more smoothly. Comp. the similarly added explanation in 1 John 5:16; τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον.

ἵνα εἰδῆτε ὅτι ζ. ἔχ. αἰ. At the opening of the Epistle S. John said ‘These things we write that our joy may be fulfilled’ (1 John 1:4). The context there shews what constitutes this joy. It is the consciousness of fellowship with God and His Son and His saints; in other words it is the conscious possession of eternal life (John 17:3). Thus the Introduction and Conclusion of the Epistle mutually explain one another. This verse should also be compared with its parallel in the Gospel (John 20:31), a passage which has probably influenced some of the various readings here. We see at once the similar yet not identical purposes of Gospel and Epistle. S. John writes his Gospel, ‘that ye may have life’; he writes his Epistle ‘that ye may know that ye have life’. The one leads to the obtaining of the boon; the other to the joy of knowing that the boon has been obtained. The one is to produce faith; the other is to make clear the fruits of faith. For πιστ. εἰς τὸ ὄνομα see on 1 John 5:10 and on 1 John 3:23.

Verses 13-17

13–17. Eternal life, faith, and brotherly love shewing boldness in intercession, are the leading ideas of this section. We have had most of these topics before, and the section is more or less of a recapitulation. But S. John “cannot even recapitulate without the introduction of new and most important thoughts” (F. W. Farrar); and the combination of the idea of boldness in prayer (1 John 3:21-22) with that of love of the brethren leads to very fruitful results.

Verses 13-21


Some modern writers consider that 1 John 5:13 constitutes the conclusion of the Epistle, the remainder (14–21) being a postscript or appendix, analogous to chap. 21 of the Gospel, and possibly by another hand. Some go so far as to conjecture that the same person added chap. 21 to the Gospel and the last nine verses to the Epistle after the Apostle’s death.

Not much can be urged in favour of these views. No MS. or version seems to exist in which these concluding verses are wanting. Tertullian quotes 1 John 5:16-18 (De Pudicitia xix.) and 1 John 5:21 (De Corona x.): Clement of Alexandria quotes 1 John 5:16-17 (Strom. II. xv.); and both these writers in quoting mention S. John by name. This shews that at the end of the second century these verses were an integral part of the Epistle. Against such evidence as this, arbitrary statements that the division of sins into sins unto death and sins not unto death, the sternness of 1 John 5:19, and the warning against idolatry, are unlike S. John, will not have much weight. The diction is S. John’s throughout, and some of the fundamental ideas of the Epistle reappear in these concluding verses. Moreover, the connexion with the first half of the chapter is so close, that there is no reason for supposing that, while unquestionably by S. John himself, yet it is, like chap. 21 of the Gospel, a subsequent addition to the original work. Indeed so close is the connexion with what precedes that some commentators consider only the last four verses, or even only the last verse, to be the proper conclusion of the Epistle.

The Conclusion, as here arranged, falls into three parts. In the first, three main thoughts are retouched; faith in the Son of God, eternal life, and love of the brethren shewing itself in intercession (13–17). In the second, three great facts of which believers have certain knowledge are restated (18–20). In the third, a farewell practical warning is given (1 John 5:21).

Verse 14

14. καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ παρ. And the boldness that we have towards Him is this: see on 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 2:28. For the fourth and last time in the Epistle the Apostle touches on the subject of the Christian’s ‘boldness’. Twice he speaks of it in connexion with the Day of Judgment (1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17); twice in connexion with approaching God in prayer (1 John 3:21-22 and here). In the present case it is with special reference to intercessory prayer that the subject is retouched. Thus two more leading ideas of the Epistle meet in this recapitulation, boldness towards God and brotherly love; for it is love of the brethren which induces us to pray for them. For the difference between αἰτεῖσθαι and ἐρωτᾶν see on 1 John 5:16. The difference between αἰτεῖσθαι and αἰτεῖν is not great, as is seen in 1 John 5:15 : but the middle rather implies that the request in some way is for the gratification of the petitioner.

κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ. This is the only limitation, and it is an exceedingly gracious limitation. His will is always for His children’s good, and therefore it is only when they ignorantly ask for what is not for their good that their prayers are denied. Comp. S. Paul’s case, 2 Corinthians 12:9. Ἀκούει of course means that He hears and grants what we ask (John 9:31; John 11:41-42). Comp. ‘The desire of the righteous shall be granted’ (Proverbs 10:24).

Verse 15

15. ἐὰν οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀκούειοἴδ. ὄτι ἔχομεν. The one certitude depends on the other: if we trust God’s goodness, we are perfectly certain that our trust is not misplaced. Comp. πάντα ὅσα προσεύχεσθε καὶ αἰτεῖσθε, πιστεύετε ὅτι ἐλάβετε, καὶ ἔσται ὑμῖν (Mark 11:24). Here the present ἔχομεν states the fact (comp. Matthew 7:8); in Mark 11:24 the future ἔσται states the result of the fact. Our petitions are granted at once: the results of the granting are perceived in the future. For the exceptional construction ἐὰν οἴδαμεν comp. ἐὰν δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν πετεινῶν ὁλοκάρπωμα προσφέρει δῶρον τῷ κυρίῳ (Leviticus 1:14): ἐὰν ὑμεῖς στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ (1 Thessalonians 3:8). In Romans 14:8 ἀποθνήσκομεν seems to be a false reading: so also ἐλευθερώσει in John 8:36. But in Acts 8:31 ὁδηγήσει is probably correct. Winer, 369.

ἃ ᾐτήκαμεν. Which we have asked of Him, as R.V. Note the change from middle to active without change of meaning. Ἀπʼ αὐτου is amphibolous: it may go either with ἔχομεν or ᾐτήκαμεν. The order favours the latter connexion; but αἰτεῖν is more commonly followed by παρά (John 4:9; Acts 3:2; Acts 9:2; James 1:5) than by ἀπό. Hence the confusion of readings here and Matthew 20:20.

Verse 16

16. ‘The prayer of faith’ is all-prevailing when it is in accordance with God’s will. This is the sole limit as regards prayer on our own behalf. Is there any other limit in the case of prayer on behalf of another? Yes, there is that other’s own will: this constitutes a further limitation. Man’s will has been endowed by God with such royal freedom, that not even His will coerces it. Still less, therefore, can a brother’s prayer coerce it. If a human will has deliberately and obstinately resisted God, and persists in doing so, we are debarred from our usual certitude. Against a rebel will even the prayer of faith in accordance with God’s will (for of course God desires the submission of the rebel) may be offered in vain.—For exhortations to intercession elsewhere in N.T. see 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Hebrews 13:18-19; James 5:14-20; comp. Philippians 1:4.

τὸν ἀδελφόν. Here ‘brother’ must mean ‘fellow-Christian’, not any human being, whether Christian or not.

ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν. As R.V., sinning a sin. The supposed case is one in which the sinner is seen in the very act. No earlier English Version marks the participle; neither does Luther, nor the Vulgate (peccare peccatum). Ἁμαρτάνειν ἁμαρτίαν occurs nowhere else in N.T.; but περὶ τῆς ἁμαρτίας αὐτοῦ ἦς ἥμαρτε occurs repeatedly in LXX. (Leviticus 5:6; Leviticus 5:10; Leviticus 5:13; Ezekiel 18:24.)

αἰτήσει. Future equivalent to imperative; he shall ask, as A.V. and R.V.: or, he will ask; i.e. a Christian in such a case is sure to pray for his erring brother. The latter seems preferable. Comp. τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ (Mark 2:20); i.e. the children of the bridechamber not only can fast, but will fast, when the Bridegroom is taken away.

δώσει αὐτῷ ζωήν. Ambiguous. The nominative may be either God or the intercessor; and αὐτῷ may be either the intercessor or the sinner for whom he intercedes. If the latter alternatives be taken, we may compare ‘he shall save a soul from death’ (James 5:20). Commentators are much divided. On the one hand it is urged that throughout Scripture asking is man’s part and giving God’s: but, on the other hand, when two verbs are connected so closely as these, ‘will ask and will give’ (αἰτήσει καὶ δώσει), it seems rather violent to give them different nominatives; ‘he will ask and God will give’. It seems better to translate, he will ask and will give him life,—them that sin not unto death. ‘Them’ is in apposition to ‘him’, the clause being an explanation rather awkwardly added, similar to that at the end of 1 John 5:13. If ‘God’ be inserted, ‘them’ is the dativus commodi; ‘God will grant the intercessor life for those who sin’. The change to the plural makes the statement more general: ‘sinning not unto death’ is not likely to be an isolated case. The New Vulgate is here exceedingly free; petat, et dabitur ei vita peccanti non ad mortem. Tertullian also ignores the change of number; postulabit, et dabit ei vitam dominus qui non ad mortem delinquit. The Old Vulgate has petit, et dabit ei vitam, peccantibus non ad mortem.

ἔστιν ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάν. There is sin unto death; we have no τις or μία, a fact which is against the supposition that any act of sin is intended. In that case would not S. John have named it, that the faithful might avoid it, and also know when it had been committed? The following explanations of ‘sin unto death’ may be safely rejected. 1. Sin punished by the law with death. 2. Sin punished by Divine visitation with death or sickness. 3. Sin punished by the Church with excommunication. As a help to a right explanation we may get rid of the idea which some commentators assume, that ‘sin unto death’ is a sin which can be recognised by those among whom the one who commits it lives. S. John’s very guarded language points the other way. He implies that some sins may be known to be ‘not unto death’: he neither says nor implies that all ‘sin unto death’ can be known as such. As a further help we may remember that no sin, if repented of, can be too great for God’s mercy. Hence S. John does not speak even of this sin as ‘fatal’ or ‘mortal’, but as ‘unto death’ (πρὸς θάνατον). Death is its natural, but not its absolutely inevitable consequence. It is possible to close the heart against the influences of God’s Spirit so obstinately and persistently that repentance becomes a moral impossibility. Just as the body may starve itself to such an extent as to make the digestion, or even the reception, of food impossible; so the soul may go on refusing offers of grace until the very power to receive grace perishes. Such a condition is necessarily sin, and ‘sin unto death’. No passing over out of death into life (1 John 3:14) is any longer (without a miracle of grace) possible. ‘Sin unto death’, therefore, is not any act of sin, however heinous, but a state or habit of sin wilfully chosen and persisted in: it is constant and consummate opposition to God. In the phraseology of this Epistle we might say that it is the deliberate and persistent preference of darkness to light, of falsehood to truth, of sin to righteousness, of the world to the Father, of spiritual death to eternal life.

οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήσῃ. Not concerning that do I say that he should make request. This reproduces the telling order of the Greek; it avoids the ambiguity which lurks in ‘pray for it’; it preserves the emphatic ἐκείνης; and marks better the difference between the verb (αἰτεῖν) previously rendered ‘ask’ (1 John 5:14-16) and the one (ἐρωτᾷν) here rendered in A.V. ‘pray’. Of the two verbs the latter is the less suppliant (see on John 14:16), whereas ‘pray’ is more suppliant than ‘ask’. Two explanations of the change of verb are suggested. 1. The Apostle does not advise request, much less does he advise urgent supplication in such a case. 2. He uses the less humble word to express a request which seems to savour of presumption. See on 2 John 1:5. With ἐκείνης here, indicating something distinct, alien, and horrible, comp. ἐκεῖνος of Judas (John 13:27; John 13:30).

[1] Note carefully that S. John, even in this extreme case, does not forbid intercession: all he says is that he does not command it. For one who sins an ordinary sin we may intercede in faith with certainty that a prayer so fully in harmony with God’s will is heard. The sinner will receive grace to repent. But where the sinner has made repentance impossible S. John does not encourage us to intercede. Comp. Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 14:11. Yet, as S. Bernard says, Fides aliquando recipit, quod oratio non praesumit, and he instances the sisters’ faith in ‘Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died’.

[2] Note also that, whilst distinguishing between deadly and not deadly sin, he gives us no criterion by which we may distinguish the one from the other. He thus condemns rather than sanctions those attempts which casuists have made to tabulate sins under the heads of ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’. Sins differ indefinitely in their intensity and effect on the soul, ending at one end of the scale in ‘sin unto death’; and the gradations depend not merely or chiefly on the sinful act, but on the motive which prompted it, and the feeling (whether of sorrow or delight) which the recollection of it evokes. Further than this it is not safe to define or dogmatize. This seems to be intimated by what is told us in the next verse. Two facts are to be borne in mind, and beyond them we need not pry.

Verse 17

17. πᾶσα ἀδικία ἁμαρτία ἐστίν. A warning against carelessness about breaches of duty, whether in ourselves or in others. All such things are sin and need the cleansing blood of Christ (1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:2). Here, therefore, is a wide enough field for brotherly intercession. The statement serves also as a farewell declaration against the Gnostic doctrine that to the enlightened Christian declensions from righteousness involve no sin. Comp. the definition of sin as lawlessness in 1 John 3:4.

ἔστιν ἁμαρτία οὐ πρὸς θάν. As before, there is sin not unto death. Luther has etliche Sünde here; eine Sünde in 1 John 5:16 : Wiclif, Purvey, Tyndale, Cranmer and the Genevan omit the indefinite article here, although they insert it in 1 John 5:16. While the preceding statement is a warning against carelessness, this is a warning against despair, whether about ourselves or about others. Not all sin is mortal:—an answer by anticipation to the heathen rigour of Stoicism and to the unchristian rigour of Montanism and Novatianism.

Note the change in 1 John 5:16-17 from ἁμαρτ. μὴ πρὸς θάν. (in a supposed case) to ἁμαρτ. οὐ π. θ. (in a statement of fact). Tertullian, the Vulgate, Harcleian Syriac, and Thebaic omit the negative and read et est peccatum (or delictum) ad mortem.

Verse 18

18. οἴδαμεν. This confident expression of the certitude of Christian faith stands at the beginning of each of these three verses, and is the link which binds them together. We have had it twice before (1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:14; comp. 1 John 2:20-21; 1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:15): and perhaps in all cases it is meant to mark the contrast between the real knowledge of the believer, which is based upon Divine revelation in Christ, and the spurious knowledge of the Gnostic, which is based upon human intelligence.

The triple οἴδαμεν at the close of the Epistle confirms the view that John 21:24 is by the Apostle’s own hand, and not added by the Ephesian elders.

πᾶς ὁ γεγενν. ἐκ τ. Θεοῦ. As R.V., whosoever is begotten of God. A.V. changes the verb (‘born’, ‘begotten’), which does not change in the Greek, and does not change the tense, which does change in a very remarkable way (γεγεννημένος. γεννηθείς).

οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει. To the non peccat of the Vulgate Bede adds peccatum videlicet ad mortem; which is clearly not S. John’s meaning. The condition of Divine sonship is incompatible, not merely with sin unto death, but with sin of any description. The sentence is a return to the statement made in 1 John 3:9, where see notes. Once more the Apostle is not afraid of an apparent contradiction (see on 1 John 2:15). He has just been saying that if a Christian sins his brother will intercede for him; and now he says that the child of God does not sin. The one statement refers to possible but exceptional facts; the other to the habitual state. A child of God may sin; but his normal condition is one of resistance to sin. “Two things a genuine Christian never does. He never makes light of any known sin, and he never admits it to be invincible” (Liddon).

ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τ. Θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν. The Begotten of God keepeth him. The interpretation of ὁ γεννηθεὶς and the reading as to the pronoun cannot either of them be determined with certainty. The latter is the easier question and it throws light on the former. ‘Him’ (αὐτόν), on the high authority of [852]1[853] and the Vulgate, seems to be rightly preferred by most editors to ‘himself’ (ἑαυτόν). This ‘him’ is the child of God spoken of in the first clause: who is it that ‘keepeth him’? Not the child of God himself, as A.V. leads us to suppose and many commentators explain, but the Son of God, the Only-Begotten. On any other interpretation S. John’s marked change of tense appears arbitrary and confusing. Recipients of the Divine birth are always spoken of by S. John both in his Gospel and in his Epistle in the perfect participle (ὁ γεγεννημένος or τὸ γεγεννημένον); 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; John 3:6; John 3:8; also the first clause here. In the present clause he abruptly changes to the aorist participle (ὁ γεννηθείς), which he uses nowhere else (comp. Matthew 1:20; Galatians 4:29). The force of the two tenses here seems to be this: the perfect expresses a permanent relation begun in the past and continued in the present; the aorist expresses a timeless relation, a mere fact: the one signifies the child of God as opposed to those who have not become His children; the other signifies the Son of God as opposed to the evil one. It is some confirmation of this view that in the Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly called the Nicene Creed, ‘begotten of the Father’ (τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα, is the same form of expression as that used here for ‘begotten of God’ (ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ). Moreover this interpretation produces another harmony between Gospel and Epistle. Christ both directly by His power and indirectly by His intercession ‘keepeth’ the children of God: ‘I kept them in Thy Name’ (John 17:12); ‘I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one’ (John 17:15).

The Latin renderings are remarkable: non peccat; sed generatio Dei conservat eum, et malignus non tangit eum (Augustine, Jerome, Vulgate); and peccatum non facit; quia nativitas Dei custodit illum, et diabolus non tangit illum (Chromatius).

ὁ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ. As R.V., The evil one toucheth him not. A.V. here as in 1 John 1:2 (‘that eternal life’) exaggerates the article into a pronoun. For ὁ πονηρός see on 1 John 2:13 : strangely enough the Genevan here has ‘that wyeked man’. ‘Toucheth him not’ is somewhat too strong for οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ. Ἅπτεσθαι, as distinct from θιγγάνειν (Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 12:20), is ‘to lay hold of’; and one may sometimes touch where one cannot lay hold. See on John 20:17. The verb is very frequent in the Synoptists, elsewhere rare. In Colossians 2:21 the A.V. exactly reverses the climax by translating μὴ ἅψῃ ‘touch not’ and μηδὲ θίγῃς ‘handle not’. Here the meaning is that the evil one may assault, but he gets no hold. ‘No one shall snatch them out of My hand’ (John 10:28). ‘The ruler of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in Me’ (John 14:30). Therefore whoever is in Christ is safe.

Verses 18-20

18–20. The Epistle now draws rapidly to a close. Having briefly, yet with much new material, retouched some of the leading ideas of the Epistle, eternal life, faith in Christ, and boldness in prayer united with brotherly love (13–17), the Apostle now goes on to emphasize once more three great facts about which Christians have sure knowledge, facts respecting themselves, their relations to the evil one and his kingdom, and their relations to the Son of God. Each verse is a condensation of what has been said elsewhere. 1 John 5:18 is a combination of 1 John 3:9 with 1 John 2:13; 1 John 5:19 a combination of the substance of 1 John 1:6; 1 John 2:8; 1 John 2:15 and 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:13 : 1 John 5:20 condenses the substance of 1 John 4:9-11 and 1 John 5:1-12. “Hence we have in these last verses a final emphasis laid on the fundamental principles on which the Epistle rests; that through the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ we have fellowship with God; that this fellowship protects us from sin; and that it establishes us in a relation of utter opposition to the world” (Haupt). Fellowship with one another is not mentioned again, but it is included in the threefold ‘we know’.

Verse 19

19. οἴδαμεν. The conjunction must be omitted on abundant authority. This introduces the second great fact of which the believer has sure knowledge. And, as so often, S. John’s divisions are not sharp, but the parts intermingle. The second fact is partly anticipated in the first; the first is partly repeated in the second. Christians know that as children of God they are preserved by His Son from the devil. Then what do they know about the world, and their relation to the world? They know that they are of God and the whole world lieth in the evil one. It remains in his power. It has not passed over, as they have done, out of death into life; but it abides in the evil one, who is its ruler (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11), as the Christian abides in Christ. It is clear therefore that the severance between the Church and the world ought to be, and tends to be, as total as that between God and the evil one. The preceding verse and the antithesis to God, to say nothing of 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 4:4, make it quite clear that ‘the evil’ (τῷ πονηρῷ) is here masculine and not neuter. The Vulgate has in maligno, not in malo. Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘is altogether set on wickedness’, which is doubly or trebly wrong. Note once more that the opposition is not exact, but goes beyond what precedes. The evil one doth not obtain hold of the child of God: he not only obtains hold over the world, but has it wholly within his embrace. No similar use of κεῖσθαι ἐν occurs in N.T. Comp. Sophocles Oed. Col. 248.

Verse 20

20. οἴδαμεν δέ. This introduces the third great fact of which believers have certain knowledge. The first two Christian certitudes are that the believer as a child of God progresses under Christ’s protection towards the sinlessness of God, while the unbelieving world lies wholly in the power of the evil one. Therefore the Christian knows that both in the moral nature which he inherits, and in the moral sphere in which he lives, there is an ever-widening gulf between him and the world. But his knowledge goes beyond this. Even in the intellectual sphere, in which the Gnostic claims to have such advantages, the Christian is, by Christ’s bounty, superior.

The ‘and’ (δέ) brings the whole to a conclusion: comp. Hebrews 13:20; Hebrews 13:22. Or it may mark the opposition between the world’s evil case and what is stated here; in which case δέ should be rendered ‘but’. “Since the two preceding verses are opposed, as asyndeta, to the 20th, which is connected with them by δέ, we may at once infer that 1 John 5:18-19 contain two more or less parallel thoughts, to which 1 John 5:20 presents one that corresponds to both. And so we find it. The preceding verses stated that we know in what relation our Divine sonship places us to sin and to the world. Here it is unfolded that we are conscious of the ground of this relation to both” (Haupt).

ἥκει καὶ δέδωκεν. Just as ἥκει includes the notions both of ‘hath come’ and ‘is here’, so δέδωκεν includes those of ‘hath given’ and ‘the gift abides’. It is the present result rather than the past act that is prominent.

διάνοιαν. Intellectual power, the capacity for receiving knowledge. The word occurs nowhere else in S. John’s writings: γνῶσις does not occur at all: σύνεσις occurs only Revelation 13:18; Revelation 17:9. Διάνοια indicates that faculty of understanding and reflection which S. Peter tells his readers (1 Peter 1:13) to brace up and keep ever ready for use. Comp. 2 Peter 3:1 and a beautiful passage in Plato’s Phaedo 66 A.

ἵνα γινώσκομεν. The force of this strange construction seems to be ‘that we may continue to recognise, as we do now’. Such combinations are not rare in late Greek. Comp. John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 4:17. But in John 17:3 Westcott and Hort and the Revisers retain γινώσκωσιν. It is possible that the construction is the result of imperfect pronunciation. The subjunctive in certain cases was perhaps pronounced like the indicative and then written instead of it. The future indicative after ἵνα is comparatively common. Winer, 362. Note that it is the appropriation of the knowledge that is emphasized (γινώσκομεν), not, as at the opening of these three verses, the possession of it (οἴδαμεν). In ἵνα γινώσκομεν τὸν ἀληθινόν we have another remarkable parallel with Christ’s Prayer: ἵνα γινωσκουσίν σε τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν Θεόν (John 17:3). For ἀληθινός see on 1 John 2:8. Ὁ ἀληθινός here is not equivalent to ὁ ἀψευδὴς Θεός (Titus 1:2): the contrast is not with the father of lies, but with the spurious gods of the heathen (1 John 5:21). What is the Gnostic’s claim to superior knowledge in comparison to our certitude of such a fact as this? We know that we have the Divine gift of intelligence by means of which we attain to the knowledge of the very God, a personal God who embraces and sustains us in His Son. Christianity is not, as Gnostics held, only one of many attempts made by man to communicate with the Infinite. It is in possession of ‘the Truth’. The Christian knows (not merely gropes after) his God and his Redeemer.

καί ἐσμεν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ. Here, as in 1 John 3:1, the Vulgate and many other Latin authorities make καί ἐσμεν depend upon the preceding ἵνα (et simus): wrongly in both cases. The new clause is a fresh statement clinching what precedes. Τῷ ἀληθινῷ means God, as in the previous clause. It is needlessly arbitrary to change the meaning and make this refer to Christ. ‘The Son has given us understanding by which to attain to knowledge of the Father’. Instead of resuming ‘And we do know the Father’, the Apostle makes an advance and says: ‘And we are in the Father’. Knowledge has become fellowship (1 John 1:3; 1 John 2:3-5). God has appeared as man; God has spoken as man to man; and the Christian faith, which is the one absolute certainty for man, the one means of reuniting him to God, is the result. For ἐν τῷ ἀλ. the Thebaic has ‘in the Life’.

ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ. Omit ‘even’ which has been inserted in A.V. and R.V. to make ‘in Him that is true’ refer to Christ. This last clause explains how it is that we are in the Father, viz. by being in the Son. Comp. 1 John 2:23; John 1:18; John 14:9; John 17:21; John 17:23. Tyndale boldly turns the second ‘in’ into ‘through’; ‘we are in him that is true, through his sonne Jesu Christ’. We have had similar explanatory additions in 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:16. [854] and the Vulgate omit ‘Jesus Christ’.

οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεός. It is impossible to determine with certainty whether οὖτος refers to the Father, the principal substantive of the previous sentence, or to Jesus Christ, the nearest substantive. That S. John teaches the Divinity of Jesus Christ both in Epistle and Gospel is so manifest, that a text more or less in favour of the doctrine need not be the subject of heated controversy. The following considerations are in favour of referring οὗτος to Christ. 1. Jesus Christ is the subject last mentioned. 2. The Father having been twice called ‘the true One’ in the previous verse, to proceed to say of Him ‘This is the true God’ is somewhat tautological. 3. It is Christ who both in this Epistle (1 John 1:2; 1 John 5:12) and also in the Gospel (John 11:25; John 14:6) is called the Life. 4. S. Athanasius three times in his Orations against the Arians interprets the passage in this way, as if there was no doubt about it (III. xxiv. 4; xxv. 16; IV. ix. 1). The following are in favour of referring οὗτος to the Father. 1. The Father is the leading subject of all that follows διάνοιαν. 2. To repeat what has been already stated and add to it is exactly S. John’s style. He has spoken of ‘Him that is true’: and he now goes on ‘This (true One) is the true God and eternal life’. 3. It is the Father who is the source of that life which the Son has and is (John 5:26). 4. John 17:3 supports this view. 5. The Divinity of Christ has less special point in reference to the warning against idols: the truth that God is the true God is the basis of the warning against false gods: comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9. But see the conclusion of the note on ἀπὸ τ. εἰδώλων in the next verse: also note κ in Lect. v. of Liddon’s Bampton Lectures, and Winer, 195, 202.

Verse 21


21. τεκνία. As in 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:4, this address refers to all his readers, and not merely the younger among them.

φυλάξατε ἑαυτά. As R.V., guard yourselves, to distinguish between τηρεῖν (1 John 5:18) and φυλάσσειν (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Both verbs occur John 17:12 : comp. John 12:25; John 12:47. The aorist imperative makes the command sharp and decisive: ‘once for all be on your guard and have nothing to do with’. Comp. ἐκτινάξατε τὸν χοῦν (Mark 6:11), ἐξάρατε τὸν πονηρὸν ἐξ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν (1 Corinthians 5:13). The difference between aorist and present imperative is well seen in John 2:16 : ‘Take these things hence at once (ἄρατε) and do not go on making (μὴ ποιεῖτε)’. The use of the reflexive pronoun instead of the middle voice intensifies the command to use personal care and exertion. See on 1 John 1:8. This construction is common in S. John (John 3:3; John 7:4; John 11:33; John 11:55; John 13:4; John 21:1; Revelation 6:15; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 19:7). For the reflexive of the third person with a verb of the second comp. 2 John 1:8; John 5:42. Winer, 178, 321. For ἑαυτὰ some authorities ([855]3[856]) have ἑαυτούς, which is the usual gender: the pronoun is rarely made to agree with a neuter form of address.

ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων. Perhaps, from the idols; those with which Ephesus abounded: or again, from your idols; those which have been, or may become, a snare to you. This is the last of the contrasts of which the Epistle is so full. We have had light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, God and the world, Christ and Antichrist, life and death, doing righteousness and doing sin, the children of God and the children of the devil, the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, the believer untouched by the evil one and the world lying in the evil one; and now at the close we have what in that age was the ever-present and pressing contrast between the true God and the idols. There is no need to seek far-fetched figurative explanations of ‘the idols’ when the literal meaning lies close at hand, is suggested by the context, and is in harmony with the known circumstances of the time. Is it reasonable to suppose that S. John was warning his readers against “systematising inferences of scholastic theology; theories of self-vaunting orthodoxy … tyrannous shibboleths of aggressive systems”, or against superstitious honour paid to the “Madonna, or saints, or pope, or priesthood”, when every street through which his readers walked, and every heathen house they visited, swarmed with idols in the literal sense; above all when it was its magnificent temples and groves and seductive idolatrous rites which constituted some of the chief attractions at Ephesus? Acts 19:27; Acts 19:35; Tac. Ann. III. 61, IV. 55. Ephesian coins with idolatrous figures on them are common. ‘Ephesian letters’ (Ἐφέσια γράμματα) were celebrated in the history of magic, and to magic the ‘curious arts’ of Acts 19:19 point. Of the strictness which was necessary in order to preserve Christians from these dangers the history of the first four centuries is full. Elsewhere in N.T. the word is invariably used literally: Acts 7:41; Acts 15:20; Romans 2:22; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:19; 1 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 9:20. Moreover, if we interpret this warning literally, we have another point of contact between the Epistle and the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 9:20; Revelation 21:8). Again, as we have seen, some of the Gnostic teachers maintained that idolatry was harmless, or that at any rate there was no need to suffer martyrdom in order to avoid it. This verse is a final protest against such doctrine. Lastly, this emphatic warning against the worship of creatures intensifies the whole teaching of this Epistle; the main purpose of which is to establish the truth that the Son of God has come in the flesh in the Man Jesus. Such a Being was worthy of worship. But if, as Ebionites and Cerinthians taught, Jesus was a creature, the son of Joseph and Mary, then worship of such an one would be only one more of those idolatries from which S. John in his farewell injunction bids Christians once and for ever to guard themselves.

Of course the figurative meaning of ‘idols’ is not excluded by maintaining the literal meaning as the primary one. Thus Cornelius à Lapide having first explained the passage of actual idolatry, quia illo aevo hoc erat maxime periculosum, adds Mysticè, simulacra phantasiae hominum sunt prava dogmata, hœreses, phantasmata vana, avaritia, cupiditates honoris, pecuniae, voluptatis. Comp. Bacon’s idola tribus, idola specus, idola fori, idola theatri (Nov. Org. 39–44).

The final ‘Amen’ ([857][858] and Vulgate) is the addition of a copyist, as at the end of the Second Epistle and the Gospel. It is omitted in [859][860][861] and most Versions. Such conclusions, borrowed from liturgies, have been freely added throughout N.T. Perhaps that in Galatians 6:18 is the only final ‘Amen’ that is genuine; but that in 2 Peter 3:8 is well supported.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 John 5:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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