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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


He that believeth is born of God; loves God and his children;

and keeps his commandments, which are not grievous, 1-3.

Faith in Christ overcomes the world, 4, 5.

The three earthly and heavenly witnesses, 6-9.

He that believeth hath the witness in himself, 10.

God has given unto us eternal life in his Son, 11, 12.

The end for which St. John writes these things, 13-16.

The sin unto death, and the sin not unto death, 16, 17.

He that is born of God sinneth not, 18.

The whole world lieth in the wicked one, 19.

Jesus is come to give us understanding, that we may know the

true God, 20.

All idolatry to be avoided, 21.


Verse 1 John 5:1. Whosoever believeth, c.] Expressions of this kind are to be taken in connection with the subjects necessarily implied in them. He that believeth that Jesus is the Messiah, and confides in him for the remission of sins, is begotten of God and they who are pardoned and begotten of God love him in return for his love, and love all those who are his children.

Verse 2

Verse 1 John 5:2. By this we know that we love the children of God — Our love of God's followers is a proof that we love God. Our love to God is the cause why we love his children, and our keeping the commandments of God is the proof that we love him.

Verse 3

Verse 1 John 5:3. For this is the love of God — This the love of God necessarily produces. It is vain to pretend love to God while we live in opposition to his will.

His commandments — To love him with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, are not grievous-are not burdensome; for no man is burdened with the duties which his own love imposes. The old proverb explains the meaning of the apostle's words, Love feels no loads. Love to God brings strength from God; through his love and his strength, all his commandments are not only easy and light, but pleasant and delightful.

On the love of God, as being the foundation of all religious worship, there is a good saying in Sohar Exod., fol. 23, col. 91: "Rabbi Jesa said, how necessary is it that a man should love the holy blessed God! For he can bring no other worship to God than love; and whoever loves him, and worships him from a principle of love, him the holy blessed God calls his beloved."

Verse 4

Verse 1 John 5:4. Whatsoever is born of God — Παν το γεγεννημενον· Whatsoever (the neuter for the masculine) is begotten of God: overcometh the world. "I understand by this," says Schoettgen, "the Jewish Church, or Judaism, which is often termed הזה עולם olam hazzeh, this world. The reasons which induce me to think so are, 1. Because this κοσμος, world, denied that the Messiah was come; but the Gentiles did not oppose this principle. 2. Because he proves the truth of the Christian religion against the Jews, reasoning according to the Jewish manner; whence it is evident that he contends, not against the Gentiles, but against the Jews. The sense therefore is, he who possesses the true Christian faith can easily convict the Jewish religion of falsity." That is, He can show the vanity of their expectations, and the falsity of their glosses and prejudices. Suppose we understand by the world the evil principles and practices which are among men, and in the human heart; then the influence of God in the soul may be properly said to overcome this; and by faith in the Son of God a man is able to overcome all that is in the world, viz., the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life.

Verse 5

Verse 1 John 5:5. He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? — That he is the promised Messiah, that he came by a supernatural generation; and, although truly man, came not by man, but by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The person who believes this has the privilege of applying to the Lord for the benefits of the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ, and receives the blessings which the Jews cannot have, because they believe not the Divine mission of Christ.

Verse 6

Verse 6. This is he that came by water and blood — Jesus was attested to be the Son of God and promised Messiah by water, i.e. his baptism, when the Spirit of God came down from heaven upon him, and the voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Jesus Christ came also by blood. He shed his blood for the sins of the world; and this was in accordance with all that the Jewish prophets had written concerning him. Here the apostle says that the Spirit witnesses this; that he came not by water only-being baptized, and baptizing men in his own name that they might be his followers and disciples; but by blood also-by his sacrificial death, without which the world could not be saved, and he could have had no disciples. As, therefore, the Spirit of God witnessed his being the Son of God at his baptism, and as the same Spirit in the prophets had witnessed that he should die a cruel, yet a sacrificial, death; he is said here to bear witness, because he is the Spirit of truth.

Perhaps St. John makes here a mental comparison between CHRIST, and Moses and Aaron; to both of whom he opposed our Lord, and shows his superior excellence. Moses came by water-all the Israelites were baptized unto him in the cloud and in the sea, and thus became his flock and his disciples; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2. Aaron came by blood-he entered into the holy of holies with the blood of the victim, to make atonement for sin. Moses initiated the people into the covenant of God by bringing them under the cloud and through the water. Aaron confirmed that covenant by shedding the blood, sprinkling part of it upon them, and the rest before the Lord in the holy of holies. Moses came only by water, Aaron only by blood; and both came as types. But CHRIST came both by water and blood, not typically, but really; not by the authority of another, but by his own. Jesus initiates his followers into the Christian covenant by the baptism of water, and confirms and seals to them the blessings of the covenant by an application of the blood of the atonement; thus purging their consciences, and purifying their souls.

Thus, his religion is of infinitely greater efficacy than that in which Moses and Aaron were ministers. See Schoettgen.

It may be said, also, that the Spirit bears witness of Jesus by his testimony in the souls of genuine Christians, and by the spiritual gifts and miraculous powers with which he endowed the apostles and primitive believers. This is agreeable to what St. John says in his gospel, John 15:26-27: When the Comforter is come, the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me; and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. This place the apostle seems to have in his eye; and this would naturally lead him to speak concerning the three witnesses, the SPIRIT, the WATER, and the BLOOD, 1 John 5:8.

Verse 7

Verse 7. There are three that bear record — The FATHER, who bears testimony to his Son; the WORD or λογος, Logos, who bears testimony to the Father; and the HOLY GHOST, which bears testimony to the Father and the Son. And these three are one in essence, and agree in the one testimony, that Jesus came to die for, and give life to, the world.

But it is likely this verse is not genuine. It is wanting in every MS. of this epistle written before the invention of printing, one excepted, the Codex Montfortii, in Trinity College, Dublin: the others which omit this verse amount to one hundred and twelve.

It is wanting in both the Syriac, all the Arabic, AEthiopic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, c., in a word, in all the ancient versions but the Vulgate and even of this version many of the most ancient and correct MSS. have it not. It is wanting also in all the ancient Greek fathers; and in most even of the Latin.

The words, as they exist in all the Greek MSS. with the exception of the Codex Montfortii, are the following:-

"1 John 5:6. This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is truth.

1 John 5:7. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.

1 John 5:9. If we receive the witness of man, the witness of God is greater, c."

The words that are omitted by all the MSS., the above excepted, and all the versions, the Vulgate excepted, are these:-

[ln heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one, and there are three which bear witness in earth.]

To make the whole more clear, that every reader may see what has been added, I shall set down these verses, with the inserted words in brackets.

"1 John 5:6. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

1 John 5:7. For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. 1 John 5:8. And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.

1 John 5:9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, c."

Any man may see, on examining the words, that if those included in brackets, which are wanting in the MSS. and versions, be omitted, there is no want of connection and as to the sense, it is complete and perfect without them and, indeed much more so than with them. I shall conclude this part of the note by observing, with Dr. Dodd, "that there are some internal and accidental marks which may render the passage suspected; for the sense is complete, and indeed more clear and better preserved, without it. Besides, the Spirit is mentioned, both as a witness in heaven and on earth; so that the six witnesses are thereby reduced to five, and the equality of number, or antithesis between the witnesses in heaven and on earth, is quite taken away. Besides, what need of witnesses in heaven? No one there doubts that Jesus is the Messiah; and if it be said that Father, Son, and Spirit are witnesses on earth, then there are five witnesses on earth, and none in heaven; not to say that there is a little difficulty in interpreting how the Word or the Son can be a witness to himself."

It may be necessary to inquire how this verse stood in our earliest English Bibles. In COVERDALE'S Bible, printed about 1535, for it bears no date, the seventh verse is put in brackets thus:-

And it is the Sprete that beareth wytnes; for the Sprete is the truth. (For there are thre which beare recorde in heaven: the Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.) And there are thre which beare record in earth: the Sprete, water, and bloude and these thre are one. If we receyve, c.

TINDAL was as critical as he was conscientious and though he admitted the words into the text of the first edition of his New Testament printed in 1526, yet he distinguished them by a different letter, and put them in brackets, as Coverdale has done; and also the words in earth, which stand in 1 John 5:8, without proper authority, and which being excluded make the text the same as in the MSS., c.

Two editions of this version are now before me one printed in English and Latin, quarto, with the following title:-

The New Testament, both in Englyshe and Laten, of Master Erasmus translation-and imprinted by William Powell-the yere of out Lorde M.CCCCC.XLVII. And the fyrste yere of the kynges (Edw. VI.) moste gratious reygne.

In this edition the text stands thus:-

And it is the Spirite that beareth wytnes, because the Spirite is truth (for there are thre whiche beare recorde in heaven, the Father, the Worde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.) For there are thre which beare recorde, (in earth,) the Spirite, water, and blode, and these thre are one. If we receyve, c.

The other printed in London "by William Tylle, 4to without the Latin of Erasmus in M.CCCCC.XLIX. the thyrde yere of the reigne of our moost dreade Soverayne Lorde Kynge Edwarde the Syxte," has, with a small variety of spelling, the text in the same order, and the same words included in brackets as above.

The English Bible, with the book of Common Prayer, printed by Richard Cardmarden, at Rouen in Normandy, fol. 1566, exhibits the text faithfully, but in the following singular manner:-

And it is the Spyryte that beareth witnesse, because the Spyryte is truthe. (for there are three which beare recorde in heaven, the Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost; and these Three are One) And three which beare recorde* (in earth) the Spirite, and water, and bloode; and these three are one.

The first English Bible which I have seen, where these distinctions were omitted, is that called The Bishops' Bible, printed by Jugge, fol. 1568. Since that time, all such distinctions have been generally disregarded.

Though a conscientious believer in the doctrine of the ever blessed, holy, and undivided Trinity, and in the proper and essential Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which doctrines I have defended by many, and even new, arguments in the course of this work, I cannot help doubting the authenticity of the text in question; and, for farther particulars, refer to the observations at the end of this chapter.

Verse 8

Verse 8. The Spirit, and the water, and the blood — This verse is supposed to mean "the Spirit-in the word confirmed by miracles; the water-in baptism, wherein we are dedicated to the Son, (with the Father and the Holy Spirit,) typifying his spotless purity, and the inward purifying of our nature; and the blood-represented in the Lord's Supper, and applied to the consciences of believers: and all these harmoniously agree in the same testimony, that Jesus Christ is the Divine, the complete, the only Saviour of the world."-Mr. Wesley's notes.

By the written word, which proceeded from the Holy Spirit, that Spirit is continually witnessing upon earth, that God hath given unto us eternal life.

By baptism, which points out our regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and which is still maintained as an initiatory rite in the Christian Church, we have another witness on earth of the truth, certainty, importance, and efficacy of the Christian religion. The same may be said of the blood, represented by the holy eucharist, which continues to show forth the death and atoning sacrifice of the Son of God till he comes. See the note on 1 John 5:6.

Verse 9

Verse 9. If we receive the witness of men — Which all are obliged to do, and which is deemed a sufficient testimony to truth in numberless cases; the witness of God is greater-he can neither be deceived nor deceive, but man may deceive and be deceived.

Verse 10

Verse 10. He that believeth on the Son of God — This is God's witness to a truth, the most important and interesting to mankind. God has witnessed that whosoever believeth on his Son shall be saved, and have everlasting life; and shall have the witness of it in himself, the Spirit bearing witness with his spirit that he is a child of God. To know, to feel his sin forgiven, to have the testimony of this in the heart from the Holy Spirit himself, is the privilege of every true believer in Christ.

Verse 11

Verse 11. This is the record — The great truth to which the Spirit, the water, and the blood bear testimony. God hath given us eternal life-a right to endless glory, and a meetness for it. And this life is in his Son; it comes by and through him; he is its author and its purchaser; it is only in and through HIM. No other scheme of salvation can be effectual; God has provided none other, and in such a case a man's invention must be vain.

Verse 12

Verse 12. He that hath the Son hath life — As the eternal life is given IN the Son of God, it follows that it cannot be enjoyed without him. No man can have it without having Christ; therefore he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life. It is in vain to expect eternal glory, if we have not Christ in our heart. The indwelling Christ gives both a title to it, and a meetness for it. This is God's record. Let no man deceive himself here. An indwelling Christ and GLORY; no indwelling Christ, NO glory. God's record must stand.

Verse 13

Verse 13. That ye may know that ye have eternal life — I write to show your privileges-to lead you into this holy of holies-to show what believing on the Son of God is, by the glorious effects it produces: it is not a blind reliance for, but an actual enjoyment of, salvation; Christ living, working, and reigning in the heart.

And that ye may believe — That is, continue to believe: for Christ dwells in the heart only by FAITH, and faith lives only by LOVE, and love continues only by OBEDIENCE; he who BELIEVES loves, and he who LOVES obeys. He who obeys loves; he who loves believes; he who believes has the witness in himself: he who has this witness has Christ in his heart, the hope of glory; and he who believes, loves, and obeys, has Christ in his heart, and is a man of prayer.

Verse 14

Verse 14. This is the confidence — παρρησια, The liberty of access and speech, that if we ask any thing according to his will, that is, which he has promised in his word. His word is a revelation of his will, in the things which concern the salvation of man. All that God has promised we are justified in expecting; and what he has promised, and we expect, we should pray for. Prayer is the language of the children of God. He who is begotten of God speaks this language. He calls God Abba, Father, in the true spirit of supplication. Prayer is the language of dependence on God; where the soul is dumb, there is neither life, love, nor faith. Faith and prayer are not boldly to advance claims upon God; we must take heed that what we ask and believe for is agreeable to the revealed will of God. What we find promised, that we may plead.

Verse 15

Verse 15. And if we know that he hear us — Seeing we are satisfied that he hears the prayer of faith, requesting the things which himself has promised; we know, consequently, that we have the petitions-the answer to the petitions, that we desired of him; for he cannot deny himself; and we may consider them as sure as if we had them; and we shall have them as soon as we plead for and need them. We are not to ask to-day for mercy that we now need, and not receive it till to-morrow, or some future time. God gives it to him who prays, when it is needful.

Verse 16

Verse 16. A sin which is not unto death — This is an extremely difficult passage, and has been variously interpreted. What is the sin not unto death, for which we should ask, and life shall be given to him that commits it? And what is the sin unto death, for which we should not pray?

I shall note three of the chief opinions on this subject: -

1. It is supposed that there is here an allusion to a distinction in the Jewish law, where there was למיתה חטאה chattaah lemithah, "a sin unto death;" and למיתה לא חטאה chattaah lo lemithah, "a sin not unto death;" that is, 1. A sin, or transgression, to which the law had assigned the punishment of death; such as idolatry, incest, blasphemy, breach of the Sabbath, and the like. And 2. A sin not unto death, i.e. transgressions of ignorance, inadvertence, c., and such is, in their own nature, appear to be comparatively light and trivial. That such distinctions did exist in the Jewish synagogue both Schoettgen and Carpzovius have proved.

2. By the sin not unto death, for which intercession might be made, and unto death, for which prayer might not be made, we are to understand transgressions of the civil law of a particular place, some of which must be punished with death, according to the statutes, the crime admitting of no pardon: others might be punished with death, but the magistrate had the power of commuting the punishments, i.e. of changing death into banishment, c., for reasons that might appear to him satisfactory, or at the intercession of powerful friends. To intercede in the former case would be useless, because the law would not relax, therefore they need not pray for it but intercession in the latter case might be prevalent, therefore they might pray and if they did not, the person might suffer the punishment of death. This opinion, which has been advanced by Rosenmuller, intimates that men should feel for each other's distresses, and use their influence in behalf of the wretched, nor ever abandon the unfortunate but where the case is utterly hopeless.

3. The sin unto death means a case of transgression, particularly of grievous backsliding from the life and power of godliness, which God determines to punish with temporal death, while at the same time he extends mercy to the penitent soul. The disobedient prophet, 1 Kings 13:1-32, is, on this interpretation, a case in point: many others occur in the history of the Church, and of every religious community. The sin not unto death is any sin which God does not choose thus to punish. This view of the subject is that taken by the late Rev. J. Wesley, in a sermon entitled, A Call to Backsliders.-WORKS, vol ii. page 239.

I do not think the passage has any thing to do with what is termed the sin against the Holy Ghost; much less with the popish doctrine of purgatory; nor with sins committed before and after baptism, the former pardonable, the latter unpardonable, according to some of the fathers. Either of the last opinions (viz., 2 and 3) make a good sense; and the first (1) is not unlikely: the apostle may allude to some maxim or custom in the Jewish Church which is not now distinctly known. However, this we know, that any penitent may find mercy through Christ Jesus; for through him every kind of sin may be forgiven to man, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; which I have proved no man can now commit. See the note on Matthew 12:31; Matthew 12:39.

Verse 17

Verse 17. All unrighteousness is sin — πασααδικια, Every act contrary to justice is sin-is a transgression of the law which condemns all injustice.

Verse 18

Verse 18. Whosoever is born of God sinneth not — This is spoken of adult Christians; they are cleansed from all unrighteousness, consequently from all sin, 1 John 1:7-9.

Keepeth himself — That is, in the love of God, Jude 1:21, by building up himself on his most holy faith, and praying in the Holy Ghost; and that wicked one-the devil, toucheth him not-finds nothing of his own nature in him on which he can work, Christ dwelling in his heart by faith.

Verse 19

Verse 19. We know that we are of God — Have the fullest proof of the truth of Christianity, and of our own reconciliation to God through the death of his Son.

The whole world lieth in wickedness. — Εν τῳ πονηρῳ κειται· Lieth in the wicked one-is embraced in the arms of the devil, where it lies fast asleep and carnally secure, deriving its heat and power from its infernal fosterer. What a truly awful state! And do not the actions, tempers, propensities, opinions and maxims of all worldly men prove and illustrate this? "In this short expression," says Mr. Wesley, "the horrible state of the world is painted in the most lively colours; a comment on which we have in the actions, conversations, contracts, quarrels and friendships of worldly men." Yes, their ACTIONS are opposed to the law of God; their CONVERSATIONS shallow, simulous, and false; their CONTRACTS forced, interested, and deceitful; their QUARRELS puerile, ridiculous, and ferocious; and their FRIENDSHIPS hollow, insincere, capricious, and fickle:-all, all the effect of their lying in the arms of the wicked one; for thus they become instinct with his own spirit: and because they are of their father the devil, therefore his lusts they will do.

Verse 20

Verse 20. We know that the Son of God is come — In the flesh, and has made his soul an offering for sin; and hath given us an understanding-a more eminent degree of light than we ever enjoyed before; for as he lay in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him unto us; and he hath besides given us a spiritual understanding, that we may know him who is true, even the TRUE GOD, and get eternal life from him through his Son, IN whom we are by faith, as the branches in the vine, deriving all our knowledge, light, life, love, and fruitfulness from him. And it is through this revelation of Jesus that we know the ever blessed and glorious Trinity; and the Trinity, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, in the eternal, undivided unity of the ineffable Godhead.

Verse 21

Verse 1 John 5:21. Little children — τεκνια. Beloved children; he concludes with the same affectionate feeling with which he commenced.

Keep yourselves from idols. — Avoid the idolatry of the heathens; not only have no false gods, but have the true God. Have no idols in your houses, none in your churches, none in your hearts. Have no object of idolatrous worship; no pictures, relics, consecrated tapers, wafers, crosses, c., by attending to which your minds may be divided, and prevented from worshipping the infinite Spirit in spirit and in truth.

The apostle, says Dr. Macknight cautioned his disciples against going with the heathens into the temple of their idol gods, to eat of their feasts upon the sacrifices they had offered to these gods and against being present at any act of worship which they paid them; because, by being present, they participated of that worship, as is plain from what St. Paul has written on the subject, 1 Corinthians 8:10, where see the notes.

That is a man's idol or god from which he seeks his happiness; no matter whether it be Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Minerva, Venus, or Diana; or pleasure, wealth, fame, a fine house, superb furniture, splendid equipage, medals, curiosities, books, titles, human friendships, or any earthly or heavenly thing, God, the supreme good, only excepted. That is a man's idol which prevents him from seeking and finding his ALL in God.

Wiclif ends his epistle thus: My little sones, kepe ye you fro mawmitis, i.e. puppets, dolls, and such like; for thus Wiclif esteemed all images employed in religious worship. They are the dolls of a spurious Christianity, and the drivellings of religion in nonage and dotage. Protestants, keep yourselves from such mawmets!

Amen. — So be it! So let it be! And so it shall be, God being our helper, for ever and ever!

Subscriptions in the VERSIONS: -

The end of the Epistle of the Apostle John. - SYRIAC.

The First Epistle of John the apostle is ended. - SYR. Philoxenian.

Nothing in either the COPTIC or VULGATE.

Continual and eternal praise be to God! - ARABIC.

The end. - AETHIOPIC;

In this version the epistle is thus introduced: -

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, the Epistle of John, the son of Zebedee, the evangelist and apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ; may his intercession be with us for ever and ever! Amen.


The First of John. - AB.

The First Epistle of John the evangelist.

The First catholic Epistle of St. John the divine, written from Ephesus.

The Epistle to the Parthians. - See several Latin MSS.

The word amen is wanting in all the best MSS. and in most of the versions.

For other matters relative to the epistle itself see the preface: and for its heavenly doctrine and unction read the text, in the original if you can; if not, in our own excellent translation.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/1-john-5.html. 1832.
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