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Ch. 2:1 6. Obedience to God by Imitation of Christ
1 6. The Apostle is still treating of the condition and conduct of the believer as determined by his walking in the light; there is no break between the two chapters. Having shewn us that even Christians constantly sin, he goes on (1) to point out the remedy for sin, (2) to exhort us not to sin. The paragraph begins and ends with the latter point, but the former constitutes the chief link with the preceding paragraph: comp. 1:7. He who craves to grow in sanctification, and yet is conscious of his own frailty must constantly have recourse to the Advocate and His cleansing blood: thus he will be enabled to obey God more and more perfectly.
1. My little children ] The diminutive form ( τεκνία ) does not at all imply that he is addressing persons of tender age: it is a term of endearment. Wiclif has ‘litil sones’ as a rendering of the filioli of the Vulgate; Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan Version all waver between ‘babes’ (which is far too strong) and ‘little children’. Setting aside Galatians 4:19 , where the reading is uncertain, the word occurs only in this Epistle ( vv. 12, 28, 3:7, 18, 4:4, 5:21) and once in the Gospel (13:33). Possibly it is a reminiscence of Christ’s farewell address in John 13:0 . S. John’s conception of the Church is that of a family, in which all are children of God and brethren one of another, but in which also some who are elders stand in a parental relation to the younger brethren. Thus there were families within the family, each with its own father. And who had a better right to consider himself a father than the last surviving Apostle? “The Apostles loved and cherished that name, and all that it implied, and all that illustrated it. They much preferred it to any title which merely indicated an office. It was more spiritual; it was more personal; it asserted better the divine order; it did more to preserve the dignity and sacredness of all domestic relations” (Maurice). Comp. the story of ‘S. John and the Robber’ (p. 24).
These things ] Probably refers to the preceding paragraph (1:5 10) rather than to what follows. On the one hand they must beware of the spiritual pride which is one of the worst forms of sin: on the other they must not think that he is bidding them acquiesce in a state of sin.
I write ] Henceforward the Apostle uses the more personal and direct first person singular. Only in the Introduction (1:4) does he use the apostolic ‘write we ’: contrast 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 21, 26, 5:13.
that ye sin not ] The Apostle is not giving a command, but stating his reason for writing thus; in order that ye may not sin . Tyndale’s first edition has ‘that ye should not sin’. That is his aim; to lead them onward to perfect holiness, to perfect likeness to God. Those who are on the one hand warned of their liability to sin, and on the other are told of what cleanses them from sin, are put in the way towards this high ideal.
And if any man sin ] Or, have sinned ( peccaverit ): S. John is not telling the intending sinner that sin is a light matter; but the penitent sinner that sin is not irremediable. In both sentences ‘sin’ is in the aorist, and implies a definite act, not an habitual state, of sin. We are to avoid not merely a life of sin, but any sin whatever. And not merely the habitual sinner, but he who falls into a single sin, needs and has an Advocate. Sin and its remedy are stated in immediate proximity, just as they are found in life.
we have an Advocate ] Just as we always have sin (1:8), so we always have One ready to plead for pardon. S. John does not say ‘ he hath an Advocate’, but ‘ we have’ one: he breaks the logical flow of the sentence rather than seem not to include himself in the need and possession of an Advocate. On Advocate or Paraclete ( παράκλητος ) see on John 14:16 . It means one who is summoned to the side of another, especially to serve as his helper, spokesman ( causae patronus ), or intercessor. The word occurs in N.T. only in S. John; here in the Epistle and four times in the Gospel (14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7). It is unlikely that S. John would use the word in totally different senses in the two writings, especially if the Epistle was written to accompany the Gospel. We must therefore find some meaning which will suit all five passages. Two renderings compete for acceptation, ‘Comforter’ and ‘Advocate’. Both make good sense in the Gospel, and (though there is by no means agreement on the point) ‘Advocate’ makes the best sense. ‘Advocate’ is the only rendering which is at all probable here: it exactly suits, the context. ‘We have a Comforter with the Father’ would be intolerable. The older English Versions (excepting Taverner, who has ‘spokesman’) all have ‘Advocate’ here; and (excepting the Rhemish, which has ‘Paraclete’) all have ‘Comforter’ in the Gospel: and of course this unanimity influenced the translators of 1611. But ‘Advocates’ as the one rendering which suits all five passages should be adopted throughout. Then we see the full meaning of Christ’s promise (John 14:16 ), ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Advocate’. Jesus Christ is one Advocate; the Holy Spirit is another. As S. Paul says, ‘the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’: and it is worthy of remark that he uses precisely the same language to express the intercession of the Spirit and the intercession of Christ (Romans 8:26 , Romans 8:27 , Romans 8:34 ). Comp. Hebrews 7:25 , Hebrews 7:9 :24; 1 Timothy 2:5 . Philo’s use of the word ‘Paraclete’ throws considerable light upon its meaning. He often uses it of the high-priest with his breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:29 ) interceding on earth for Israel, and also of the Divine Word or Logos giving efficacy in heaven to the intercession of the priest upon earth: ‘It was necessary that the priest who is consecrated to the Father of the world should employ an Advocate most perfect in efficacy, even the Son, for the blotting-out of sins and the obtaining of abundant blessings’ ( De Vita Mosis , III. xiv. 155). It is evident that the whole passage ‘the blood of Jesus cleanseth us’, ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, ‘Advocate’, ‘propitiation’ points back to the Mosaic purifications by the blood of victims, and especially to the intercession of the high-priest with the blood of the bullock and the goat on the Day of Atonement. That great type, S. John affirms, has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Comp. Hebrews 9:24 .
with the Father ] Literally, towards the Father . The idea is either that of turning towards in order to plead with Him; or, as in 1:2 and John 1:1 , at home with Him, ever before His face. ‘The Father’ rather than ‘God’, to bring out the point that our Advocate is His Son, and that through Him we also are made sons. It is not a stern judge but a loving Father before whom He has to plead.
Jesus Christ the righteous ] Or, a righteous one : there is no article in the Greek. But in English ‘the righteous’ comes nearer to the Greek than the apparently more exact ‘a righteous one’. It is as being righteous Himself that He can so well plead with the ‘righteous Father’ (John 17:25 ; 1 John 1:9 ) for those who are not righteous. And, as Bede remarks, “a righteous advocate does not undertake unrighteous causes.” It is the Sinless Man, the perfected and glorified Jesus, who pleads for sinners before the Throne of God. Note that neither in the body of the Epistle, any more than in the body of the Gospel, does S. John speak of Christ as ‘the Word’. In both cases that title is used in the Introduction only. When he speaks of the historic person Jesus Christ, S. John uses the name by which He is known in history. Of the perfect righteousness of this Man S. John has personal knowledge, and he alludes to it repeatedly in this Epistle.
2. And He is the propitiation ] Or, And He Himself is a propitiation : there is no article in the Greek. Note the present tense throughout; ‘we have an Advocate, He is a propitiation’: this condition of things is perpetual, it is not something which took place once for all long ago. In His glorified Body the Son is ever acting thus. Contrast ‘He laid down His life for us’ (3:16). Beware of the unsatisfactory explanation that ‘propitiation’ is the abstract for the concrete, ‘propitiation’ ( ἱλασμός ) for ‘propitiator’ ( ἱλαστήρ ). Had S. John written ‘propitiator’ we should have lost half the truth; viz. that our Advocate propitiates by offering Himself . He is both High Priest and Victim, both Propitiator and Propitiation. It is quite obvious that He is the former; the office of Advocate includes it. It is not at all obvious that He is the latter: very rarely does an advocate offer himself as a propitiation.
The word for ‘propitiation’ occurs nowhere in N. T. but here and in 4:10; in both places without the article and followed by ‘for our sins’. It signifies any action which has expiation as its object, whether prayer, compensation, or sacrifice. Thus ‘the ram of the atonement’ (Numbers 5:8 ) is ‘the ram of the propitiation’ or ‘expiation’, where the same Greek word as is used here is used in the LXX. Comp. Ezekiel 44:27 ; Numbers 29:11 ; Leviticus 25:9 . The LXX. of ‘there is forgiveness with Thee’ (Psalms 130:4 ) is remarkable: literally rendered it is ‘before Thee is the propitiation’ ( ὁ ἱλασμός ). So also the Vulgate, apud Te propitiatio est . And this is the idea that we have here: Jesus Christ, as being righteous, is ever present before the Lord as the propitiation. With this we should compare the use of the cognate verb in Hebrews 2:17 and cognate substantive Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5 . From these passages it is clear that in N. T. the word is closely connected with that special form of expiation which takes place by means of an offering or sacrifice , although this idea is not of necessity included in the radical signification of the word itself. See notes in all three places.
for our sins ] Literally, concerning ( περἱ ) our sins : our sins are the matter respecting which the propitiation goes on. This is the common form of expression in LXX. Comp. Numbers 29:11 ; Exodus 30:15 , Exodus 30:16 , Exodus 30:32 :30; Leviticus 4:20 , Leviticus 4:26 , Leviticus 4:31 , Leviticus 4:35 , &c. &c. Similarly, in John 8:46 , ‘Which of you convicteth Me of sin?’ is literally, ‘Which of you convicteth Me concerning sin?’ Comp. John 16:8 , John 10:33 . Notice that it is ‘our sins’, not ‘our sin’: the sins which we are daily committing, and not merely the sinfulness of our nature, are the subject of the propitiation.
and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world ] More literally, but also for the whole world: ‘the sins of’ is not repeated in the Greek and is not needed in English. Once more we have a parallel with the Gospel, and especially with chap. 17. ‘Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that shall believe on Me through their word … that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me … that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them, even as Thou lovedst Me’ (17:20 23): ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world ’ (John 1:29 ): ‘We know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world ’ (4:24). Comp. 1 John 4:14 . S. John’s writings are so full of the fundamental opposition between Christ or believers and the world, that there was danger lest he should seem to give his sanction to a Christian exclusiveness as fatal as the Jewish exclusiveness out of which he and other converts from Judaism had been delivered. Therefore by this (note especially ‘the whole world’) and other plain statements both in Gospel (see 11:51 in particular) and Epistle he insists that believers have no exclusive right to the merits of Christ. The expiatory offering was made for the whole world without limitation. All who will may profit by it: quam late peccatum, tam late propitiatio (Bengel). The disabilities under which the whole human race had laboured were removed. It remained to be seen who would avail themselves of the restored privileges. ‘The world’ ( ὁ κόσμος ) is another of S. John’s characteristic expressions. In his writings it generally means those who are alienated from God , outside the pale of the Church. But we should fall into grievous error if we assigned this meaning to the word indiscriminately. Thus, in ‘the world was made by Him’ (John 1:10 ) it means ‘the universe’; in ‘This is of a truth the Prophet that cometh into the world’ (John 6:14 ) it means ‘the earth’; in ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16 ) it means, as here, ‘the inhabitants of the earth, the human race’. But still the prevalent meaning in both Gospel and Epistle is a bad one; ‘those who have not accepted the Christ, unbelievers.’ In the Apocalypse it occurs only thrice, once in the usual sense, ‘The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord’ (11:15), and twice in the sense of ‘the universe’ (13:8, 17:8).
3. hereby we do know that we know Him ] Or, herein we come to know that we know Him : in the Greek we have the present and perfect of the verb which means ‘to come to know, perceive, recognise’ ( γινώσκειν ); the perfect of which, ‘I have come to know’ = ‘I know.’ Comp. the Collect for the First Sunday after Epiphany; ‘that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do.’ Progressive knowledge gained by experience is implied. ‘Herein’ followed by ‘if’, or ‘that’, or ‘because’, or ‘when, is a frequent construction in S. John: 2:5, 3:16, 19, 4:9, 10, 13, 17, 5:2; John 13:35 , John 15:8 . Excepting Luke 10:20 , it occurs nowhere else in N. T.
if we keep His commandments ] This is equivalent to ‘not sinning’ in v. 1, and to ‘walking in the light’ in 1:6. There is no real knowledge of God, no fellowship with Him, without practical conformity to His will. Nam quisquis eum non amat, profecto ostendit, quia quam sit amabilis, non novit (Bede). S. John is again condemning that Gnostic doctrine which made excellence to consist in mere intellectual enlightenment. Divorced from holiness of life, says S. John, no enlightenment can be a knowledge of God. In his system of Christian Ethics the Apostle insists no less than Aristotle, that in morals knowledge without practice is worthless: ‘not speculation but conduct’ is the aim of both the Christian and the heathen philosopher. Mere knowledge will not do: nor will knowledge ‘touched by emotion’ do. It is possible to know, and admire, and in a sort of way love, and yet act as if we had not known. But S. John gives no encouragement to devotion without a moral life (comp. 1:6). There is only one way of proving to ourselves that we know God, and that is by loving obedience to His will. Compare the very high standard of virtue set by Aristotle: he only is a virtuous man who does virtuous acts, “first, knowingly; secondly, from deliberate preference, and deliberate preference for the sake of the acts (and not any advantages resulting from them); and thirdly, with firm and unvarying purpose” ( Nic. Eth. II. iv. 3).
The phrase ‘to keep (His) commandments’ or ‘keep (His) word’ is of frequent occurrence in S. John’s writings, Gospel (14:15, 21, 15:10; 8:51, 52, 55, 14:23, 15:20, 17:6), Epistle (2:4, 3:22, 24, 5:[2,] 3; 2:5) and Revelation (12:17, 14:12; 3:8, 10). Comp. John 14:24 ; Revelation 22:7 , Revelation 22:9 . The word ‘to keep’ ( τηρεῖν ) means to be on the watch to obey and fulfil; it covers both outward and inward observance.
4. The previous statement is enforced by denying the opposite of it. The construction, ‘he that saith,’ ‘he that loveth,’ &c. now takes the place of ‘if we say,’ ‘if we walk,’ &c., but without change of meaning; and this continues down to v. 11, after which both constructions cease and a new division begins. Comp. 1:6, which is exactly parallel to this: ‘to know Him’ = ‘to have fellowship with Him,’ and ‘not to keep His commandments’ = ‘to walk in darkness.’
and keepeth not ] By the negative which he uses ( μή ) S. John states the case as gently as possible, without asserting that any such person exists (see on v. 10).
5. The statement in v. 3 is still further emphasized by taking the opposite of v. 4; but with this we do not return to v. 3, but have an expansion of it.
His word ] A wider expression than ‘His commandments’, covering the sum total of the revelation of God’s will: comp. v. 14. Thus Christ says, ‘He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me’ (John 14:21 ).
verily ] Or, truly , or, of a truth . S. John uses this word ( ἀληθῶς ) about 8 times; and in the rest of N. T. it occurs about 8 times: see on 1:6. It must not be confounded with the ‘verily’ ( ἀμήν ) in our Lord’s discourses. Here it stands first for emphasis; verily in him: comp. John 8:31 .
is the love of God perfected ] Or, the love of God hath been perfected . We need both renderings in order to bring out the full force of the Greek, which means ‘has been made perfect and remains so’. Obedience, not feeling, is the test of perfect love. This declaration shews that it is quite wrong to make ‘we know Him’ in v. 3 and ‘I know Him’ in v. 4 a Hebraism for ‘love Him’. Even if ‘know’ is ever used in the sense of ‘ love ’, which may be doubted, S. John would hardly in the same sentence use ‘know’ in two totally different senses ( v. 3). S. John’s mention of love here shews that when he means ‘love’ he writes ‘love’ and not ‘know’. He declares that true knowledge involves love, but they are not identical, any more than convex and concave. ‘The love of God’ here means ‘the love of man to God’: this is the common usage in this Epistle (2:15, 3:17, 4:12, 5:3). Only once is the genitive subjective and means ‘the love of God for man’; and there the context makes this quite clear (4:9). ‘Love,’ both verb and substantive, is one of S. John’s favourite words. His Gospel is the Gospel of Love and his Epistle the Epistle of Love. ‘To perfect’ is also much more common in his writings than elsewhere in N. T., excepting the Epistle to the Hebrews, especially in the passive voice (4:12, 17, 18; John 17:23 , John 19:28 ). S. John is here speaking, as often in this Epistle, of an ideal state of things. No Christian’s love to God is perfect: but the more perfect his knowledge, the more perfect his obedience and his love.
hereby we know ] Or, Herein we come to know: it is the same phrase as in v. 3, and should probably, as there, be taken with what follows, rather than with what precedes. It belongs to v. 6 more than to v. 5, and is parallel to 1:6.
6. He that saith ] He who declares his position is morally bound to act up to the declaration which he has made. To profess to abide in God involves an obligation to imitate the Son, who is the concrete expression of God’s will. ‘To abide’ is another of the Apostle’s very favourite expressions, a fact greatly obscured in A. V. by capricious changes of rendering: see on v. 24. ‘To abide in’ implies habitual fellowship. Note the climax; to know Him ( v. 3), to be in Him ( v. 5), to abide in Him ( v. 6): cognitio, communio, constantia (Bengel).
ought ] It is a debt which he owes ( ὀφείλει , debet ). S. John does not say ‘must’ ( δεῖ , oportet ) which might seem to imply constraint. The obligation is internal and personal. ‘Must’ ( δεῖ ), frequent in the Gospel, does not occur in these Epistles.
even as He walked ] Not simply ‘as’ ( ὡς ) but ‘even as’ ( καθώς ): the imitation must be exact. The ‘He’ is a different pronoun ( ἐκεῖνος ) from the preceding ‘Him’ ( αὐτῷ ), and this with the context makes it almost certain that while ‘in Him’ means ‘in God’, ‘even as He walked’ refers to Christ. Comp. 3:3, 5, 7, 16, 4:17. For ‘even as’ comp. vv. 18, 27, 3:2, 12, 23; Luke 6:36 , &c. &c. and for ‘even as He’ comp. 3:3, 7, 4:17. S. Peter declares that Christ has ‘left us an example, that we should follow His steps’ (1 Peter 2:21 ).
7 11. Love of the Brethren
7 11. Walking in the light involves not only fellowship with God and with the brethren (1:5 7), consciousness and confession of sin (1:8 10), obedience by imitation of Christ (2:1 6), but also love of the brethren . In nothing did Christ more express the Father’s Nature and Will than by His love: therefore in obeying the Father by imitating Christ we also must love. “This whole Epistle which we have undertaken to expound to you, see whether it commendeth aught else than this one thing, charity. Nor need we fear lest by much speaking thereof it come to be hateful. For what is there to love, if charity come to be hateful?” (S. Augustine). Comp. 3:10, 4:7.
7. Brethren ] The true reading is Beloved . This form of address is specially suitable to this section ( vv. 7 11), in which the subject of love appears. In the second part of the Epistle, in which love is the main topic, this form of address becomes the prevailing one (3:2, 21, 4:1, 7, 11).
I write no new commandment ] The order of the Greek is worth keeping: not a new commandment do I write . What commandment is meant? To imitate Christ ( v. 6)? Or, to practise brotherly love ( vv. 9 11)? Practically it makes little matter which answer we give, for at bottom these are one and the same. They are different aspects of walking in the light . But a definite command of some kind is meant, not vaguely the whole Gospel: had he meant the latter, S. John would rather have said ‘the word’ or ‘the truth’. See on v. 11.
from the beginning ] As already noticed on 1:1, the meaning of ‘beginning’ must always depend upon the context. Several interpretations have been suggested here, and all make good sense. (1) From the beginning of the human race: brotherly love is an original human instinct. Christian Ethics are here as old as humanity. (2) From the beginning of the Law: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18 ) was commanded by Moses. Christian Ethics are in this only a repetition of Judaism. (3) From the beginning of your life as Christians: this was one of the first things ye were taught. On the whole this seems best, especially as we have the aorist, which ye heard , not the perfect, as A. V., ye have heard (see on v. 18): comp. v. 24 and especially 3:11; 2 John 1:5 , 2 John 1:6 . The second ‘from the beginning’ is not genuine.
8. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true ] Or, Again , as a new commandment I write unto you a thing which is true . Or, Again, a new commandment write I unto you , namely that which is true . It is difficult to decide between these three renderings; but the third is simpler than the first. Both Tyndale and the Genevan Version have ‘a thing that is true’. If we adopt the rendering of A. V. and R. V., the meaning seems to be, that the newness of the commandment is true, both in the case of Christ, who promulgated it afresh, and in the case of you, who received it afresh. If we prefer the simpler rendering, the meaning will be, that what has already been shewn to be true by the pattern life of Christ and by the efforts of Christians to imitate it, is now given by S. John as a new commandment. The ‘Again’ introduces a new view: that which from one point of view was an old commandment, from another was a new one. It was old, but not obsolete, ancient but not antiquated: it had been renewed in a fuller sense; it had received a fresh sanction. Thus both those who feared innovations and those who disliked what was stale might feel satisfied.
in Him and in you ] Note the double preposition, implying that it is true in the case of Christ in a different sense from that in which it is true in the case of Christians. He reissued the commandment and was the living embodiment and example of it; they accepted it and endeavoured to follow it: both illustrated its truth and soundness. See on 1:3, where ‘with’ is repeated, and on John 20:2 , where ‘to’ is repeated. The reading ‘in us’ is certainly to be rejected.
because the darkness is past ] Rather, is passing away ( v. 17): present tense of a process still going on ( v. 17). All earlier English Versions are wrong here, from Wiclif onwards, misled by transierunt tenebrae in the Vulgate. On ‘darkness’ see on 1:5. The ‘because’ introduces the reason why he writes as a new commandment what has been proved true by the example of Christ and their own experience. The ideal state of things, to which the perfect fulfilment of this commandment belongs, has already begun: ‘The darkness is on the wane, the true light is shewing its power; therefore I bid you to walk as children of light’. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 .
the true light now shineth ] Or, the light, the true (light), is already shining or, giving light: the article is repeated, as in the case of ‘the life, the eternal (life)’ in 1:2, and ‘the commandment, the old (commandment)’ in v. 7; and if we have ‘is passing’ rather than ‘passeth’, we should have ‘is shining’ rather than ‘shineth’. Here we have not precisely the same word for ‘true’ as in the previous sentence. In ‘a thing which is true’ ( ἀληθές ) ‘true’ is opposed to ‘lying’: here ‘true’ ( ἀληθινὸν ) is opposed to ‘spurious’, and is just the old English ‘very’. In ‘Very God of very God’ in the Nicene Creed, ‘very’ represents the word here rendered ‘true’. ‘True’ in this sense means ‘genuine’, or ‘that which realises the idea formed of it’, and hence ‘perfect.’ Christ and the Gospel are ‘the perfect light’ in opposition to the imperfect light of the Law and the Prophets and the false light of Gnostic philosophy. This form of the word ‘true’ is almost peculiar to S. John: it occurs 4 times in this Epistle, 9 times in the Gospel and 10 times in the Apocalypse: elsewhere in the N.T. only 5 times. Christ in the Gospel is called ‘the perfect Vine’ (15:1), ‘the perfect Bread’ (6:32) and ‘the perfect Light’ (1:9). It is comparatively unimportant whether we interpret ‘the perfect light’ here to mean Christ, or the light of the truth, or the kingdom of heaven: but John 1:5 , John 1:9 will certainly incline us to the first of these interpretations. The contrast with the impersonal darkness does not disprove this here any more than in John 1:5 . Darkness is never personal; it is not an effluence from Satan as light is from God or from Christ. It is the result, not of the presence of the evil one, but of the absence of God. Comp. ‘Ye were once darkness, but now light in the Lord: walk as children of light’ (Ephesians 5:8 ).
9 11. The form of these three verses is similar to that of vv. 3 5, and still more so to 1:8 10. In each of these three triplets a case is placed between two statements of the opposite to it; confession of sin, obedience, and love, between two statements of denial of sin, disobedience, and hate. But in none of the triplets do we go from one opposite to the other and back again: in each case the side from which we start is restated in such a way as to constitute a distinct advance upon the original position. There is no weak tautology or barren see-saw. The emphasis grows and is marked by the increase in the predicates. In v. 9 we have one; ‘is in darkness even until now’; in v. 10, two; ‘abideth in the light, and there is none, &c.’; in v. 11, three; ‘is in the darkness, and walketh &c., and knoweth not &c.’.
9. For the fifth time the Apostle indicates a possible inconsistency of a very gross kind between profession and conduct (1:6, 8, 10, 2:4). We shall have a sixth in 4:20. In most of these passages he is aiming at some of the Gnostic teaching already prevalent. And this introduces a fresh pair of contrasts. We have had light and darkness, truth and falsehood; we now have love and hate.
his brother ] Does this mean ‘his fellow-Christian’ or ‘his fellow-man’, whether Christian or not? The common meaning in N.T. is the former; and though there are passages where ‘brother’ seems to have the wider signification, e.g. Matthew 5:22 ; Luke 6:41 ; James 4:11 , yet even here the spiritual bond of brotherhood is perhaps in the background. In S. John’s writings, where it does not mean actual relationship, it seems generally if not universally to mean ‘Christians’: not that other members of the human race are excluded, but they are not under consideration. Just as in the allegories of the Fold and of the Good Shepherd, nothing is said about goats, and in that of the Vine nothing is said about the branches of other trees; so here in the great family of the Father nothing is said about those who do not know Him. They are not shut out, but they are not definitely included. In this Epistle this passage, 3:10, 14 17 and 4:20, 21, are somewhat open to doubt: but 5:1, 2 seems very distinctly in favour of the more limited meaning; and in 5:16 the sinning ‘brother’ is certainly a fellow-Christian. In 2 John the word does not occur: 3 John 1:3 , 3 John 1:5 , 3 John 1:10 confirm the view here taken. In the Gospel the word is generally used of actual relationship: but in the two passages where it is used otherwise it means Christians: in 20:17, Christ speaks of the disciples as ‘My brethren’, and in 21:23, Christians are called ‘the brethren’. In the Apocalypse , omitting 22:9 as doubtful, all the passages where the word occurs require the meaning ‘Christian’ (1:9, 6:11, 12:10, 19:10). Note that throughout this Epistle the singular is used; ‘his brother ’, not ‘his brethren ’.
is in darkness even until now ] Or, as in 1:6, in order to bring out the full contrast with the light, is in the darkness . ‘Even until now’, i.e. in spite of the light which ‘is already shining’, and of which he has so little real experience that he believes light and hatred to be compatible. Years before this S. Paul had declared (1 Corinthians 13:2 ), ‘If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, … but have not love, I am nothing.’ The light in a man is darkness until it is warmed by love. The convert from heathendom who professes Christianity and hates his brother, says S. Augustine, is in darkness even until now. “There is no need to expound; but to rejoice if it be not so, to bewail, if it be.” The word for ‘now’ ( ἄρτι ) is specially frequent in S. John’s Gospel: it indicates the present moment not absolutely, but in relation to the past or the future. The peculiar combination, ‘even until now’ ( ἕως ἄρτι ) occurs John 2:10 , John 2:5 :17, John 2:16 :24; Matthew 11:12 ; 1 Corinthians 4:13 , 1 Corinthians 4:8 :7, 1 Corinthians 4:15 :6, a fact much obscured in A.V. by the variety of renderings; ‘until now’, ‘hitherto’, ‘unto this day’, ‘unto this hour’, ‘unto this present’.
10. abideth in the light ] Not only has entered into it but has made it his abode: see on v. 24.
there is none occasion of stumbling in him ] There are several ways of taking this. 1. He has in him nothing likely to ensnare him or cause him to stumble. 2. He has in him nothing likely to cause others to stumble. 3. There is in his case nothing likely to cause stumbling. 4. In the light there is nothing likely to cause stumbling; the Greek for ‘in him’ being either masculine or neuter, and therefore capable of meaning ‘in it’. All make good sense, and the last makes a good antithesis to ‘knoweth not whither he goeth’ in v. 11: but the first is to be preferred on account of v. 11. Yet in favour of the second it is worth noting that σκάνδαλον is commonly, if not always, used of offence caused to others . The parallel expressions ‘the truth is not in him’ ( v. 4), ‘His word is not in us’ (1:10; comp. 1:8), make ‘in him’ more probable than ‘in his case’. And nothing here suggests the notion that the brother-hater leads others astray: it is his own dark condition that is contemplated. Moreover, there is the very close parallel in John 11:9 , John 11:10 ; ‘If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him.’ Comp. Psalms 119:165 , ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them’; i.e. there is no stumbling-block before them. Where the LXX. is very similar to this passage, omitting the preposition ‘in.’
11. is in darkness and walketh in darkness ] The darkness is his home and the scene of his activity. ‘The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble’ (Proverbs 4:19 ).
knoweth not whither he goeth ] Literally, where he is going: the adverb ( ποῦ ) is properly one of rest, ‘where’, and not of motion, ‘whither’. But in S. John this adverb is often joined with verbs of motion, and in particular with the verb used here ( ὑπάγειν ): John 3:8 , John 3:8 :14, John 3:12 :35, John 3:36 , John 3:14 :5, John 3:16 :5; John 7:35 . Elsewhere in the N.T. the construction occurs only Hebrews 11:8 . Perhaps both rest and motion are included; ‘knoweth not where he is and whither he is going’: i.e. neither knows his sin nor the direction in which his sin leads him. It is perhaps a little too definite to explain with S. Cyprian ( On Jealousy and Envy , XI.), “for he is going without knowing it to Gehenna; in ignorance and blindness he is hurrying to punishment.” Comp. John 12:35 , which is almost word for word the same as this, forming another point of contact between Gospel and Epistle.
because that darkness hath blinded ] Or, because the darkness hath blinded . It is literally ‘blinded’, not ‘hath blinded’, of what took place once for all some time ago: but this is just one of those cases where it is the Greek idiom to use the aorist, but the English idiom to use the perfect; and therefore the Greek aorist should be rendered by the English perfect. ‘Blinded’ must not be weakened into ‘dimmed’: the verb means definitely ‘to make blind’ (John 12:40 ; 2 Corinthians 4:4 ). Animals kept in the dark, e.g. ponies in coal-mines, become blind: the organ that is never exercised loses its power. So also the conscience that is constantly ignored at last ceases to act. The source of the metaphor is perhaps Isaiah 6:10 : comp. Romans 11:10 .
Before proceeding further let us briefly sum up the Apostle’s line of argument thus far. ‘God is light. Christ is that light revealed. The life of Christ was a life of obedience and a life of love. In order, therefore, to have fellowship through Him with God believers must obey and love. The state of things in which this is possible has already begun. Therefore I write to you a command which is both old and new; walk in the light by imitating the love of Christ.’ In this manner he lays the foundations of Christian Ethics. The last three verses (9 11) shew that the special aspect of walking in light which is referred to in the commandment which is at once old and new is love: and if this be so, we can hardly doubt that in calling it ‘a new commandment’ he has in his mind Christ’s farewell words, John 13:34 ; ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.’ The latter half of the verse is, therefore, the special interpretation of ‘ought himself also to walk even as He walked’.
It is not easy to determine whether the division which follows ( vv. 12 28) is best regarded as a subdivision of the first main portion of the Epistle, or as a co-ordinate portion. In favour of the latter view are these facts: 1. The idea of light which runs through the whole of the division just concluded (1:5 2:11), and which is mentioned six times in it, now disappears altogether. 2. The Epistle now takes a distinctly hortatory turn. The first part lays down principles: this part gives warnings and exhortations. 3. The Apostle seems to make a fresh start: vv. 12 14 read like a new Introduction. In favour of making this part a subdivision of the first main division it may be urged: 1. Though the idea of light is no longer mentioned, yet other ideas to which it directly led, love, the truth, abiding in God, still continue: the parts evidently overlap. 2. The hortatory turn is only a partial change of form occurring merely in vv. 15 and 28. In the intermediate verses the aphoristic mode of expression continues. 3. The quasi-Introduction in vv. 12 14 no more constitutes a fresh division than the similar addresses in vv. 1 and 7.
On the whole it seems best to consider what follows as a subordinate part of the first main division of the Epistle. Thus far we have had the Condition and Conduct of the Believer considered on its positive side . We now have the negative side What Walking in the Light excludes.
12 28. The Things and Persons to be Avoided
These are summed up under two heads: i. The World and the Things in the World (15 17); ii. Antichrists (18 26). The section begins with a threefold statement of the happy experiences which those addressed have had in the Gospel, and gives these as a reason for their being addressed (12 14), and ends with an exhortation to abide in Christ as the best safeguard from the dangers against which the Apostle has been warning them (27, 28).
12 14. Threefold Statement of Reasons for Writing
“Hitherto St John has stated briefly the main scope of his Epistle. He has shewn what is the great problem of life, and how the Gospel meets it with an answer and a law complete and progressive, old and new. He now pauses, as it were to contemplate those whom he is addressing more distinctly and directly, and to gather up in a more definite form the charge which is at once the foundation and the end of all he writes” (Westcott).
These verses have given rise to much discussion (1) as to the different classes addressed, (2) as to the meaning of the change of tense, from ‘I write’ to ‘I wrote’ or ‘have written’.
(1) It will be observed that we have two triplets, each consisting of little children, fathers and young men. There is a slight change of wording in the Greek not apparent in the English, the word for ‘little children’ in the first triplet ( τεκνία ) being not the same as in the second ( παιδία ). But this need not make us give a different interpretation in each case. ‘Little children’ throughout the Epistle, whether expressed as in vv. 14 and 18 ( παιδία ), or as in vv. 1, 12, 28, 3:7, 18, 4:4, 5:21 ( τεκνία ), probably means the Apostle’s readers generally, and has nothing to do with age or with standing in the Christian community. It indicates neither those who are of tender years, nor those who are young in the faith. It is a term of affection for all the Apostle’s ‘dear children’. But this is not the case with either ‘fathers’ or ‘young men’. These terms are probably in each triplet to be understood of the older and younger men among the Christians addressed. This fully accounts for the order in each triplet; first the whole community, then the old, then the young. If ‘little children’ had reference to age, we should have had either ‘children, youths, fathers’, or ‘fathers, youths, children’. There is, however, something to be said for the view that all S. John’s readers are addressed in all three cases , the Christian life of all having analogies with youth, manhood, and age; with the innocence of childhood, the strength of prime, and the experience of full maturity.
(2) The change of tense cannot be explained with so much confidence. But an important correction of reading must first be noticed. We ought not to read with A. V. ‘I write’ four times and then ‘I have written’ twice: but with R. V. ‘I write’ thrice and then ‘I have written’ or ‘I wrote’ thrice. This correction confirms the explanation given above of the different classes addressed. The following interpretations of the change from the present to the aorist have been suggested. 1. ‘I write’ refers to the Epistle, ‘I wrote’ to the Gospel which it accompanies. The Apostle first gives reasons why he is writing this letter to the Church and to particular portions of it; and then gives reasons, partly the same and partly not, why he wrote the Gospel to which it makes such frequent allusions. On the whole this seems most satisfactory. It gives a thoroughly intelligible meaning to each tense and accounts for the abrupt change. 2. ‘I write’ refers to this Epistle; ‘I wrote’ to a former Epistle. But of any former Epistle we have no evidence whatever. 3. ‘I write’ refers to the whole Epistle; ‘I wrote’ to the first part down to 2:11. But would S. John have first said that he wrote the whole letter for certain reasons, and then said that he wrote a portion of it for much the same reasons? Had ‘I wrote’ preceded ‘I write’, and had the reasons in each triplet been more different, this explanation would have been more satisfactory. 4. ‘I write’ refers to what follows, ‘I wrote’ to what precedes. This is a construction louche indeed! The objection urged against the preceding explanation applies still more strongly. 5. ‘I write’ is written from the writer’s point of view, ‘I wrote’ from the reader’s point of view: the latter is the epistolary aorist, like scripsi or scribebam in Latin (comp. Philippians 2:25 , Philippians 2:28 ; Philemon 1:12 , and especially 19 and 21). But is it likely that S. John would make three statements from his own stand-point, and then repeat them from his readers’ stand-point? And if so, why make any change in them? 6. The repetition is made for emphasis. This explains the repetition, but not the change of tense. Hence ‘What I have written, I have written’ (John 19:22 ), and ‘Rejoice … and again I will say, rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4 ) are not analogous; for there the same tense is repeated. 7. S. John may have left off writing at the end of v. 13, and then on resuming may have partly repeated himself from the new point of time, saying ‘I wrote’ where he had previously said ‘I write’. This is conceivable, but is a little fine-drawn. Without, therefore, confidently affirming that it is the right explanation, we fall back upon the one first stated, as intelligible in itself and more satisfactory than the others.
little children ] All his readers; as in vv. 1, 28, 3:7, 18, &c.
because your sins are forgiven you ] Some would render ‘ that your sins are forgiven you’; and so in each of these sentences substituting ‘that’ for ‘because’. This is grammatically quite possible, but is otherwise highly improbable: comp. v. 21. S. John is not telling them what he is writing, but why he writes it. The forgiveness of sins is the very first condition of Christian morals (1:7); therefore he reminds them all of this first.
for His name’s sake ] Of course Jesus Christ’s. It was by believing on His Name that they acquired the right to become children of God (John 1:12 ). ‘The Name of Jesus Christ’ is not a mere periphrasis for Jesus Christ. Names in Scripture are constantly given as marks of character possessed or of functions to be performed. This is the case with all the Divine Names. The Name of Jesus Christ indicates His attributes and His relations to man and to God. It is through these that the sins of S. John’s dear children have been forgiven.
13. fathers ] The older men among his readers: comp. Jude 1:17 :10, Jude 1:18 :19; 2 Kings 2:12 , 2 Kings 6:21 , 2 Kings 13:14 . The address stands alone in N. T. The nearest approaches to it are Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 , where the actual fathers of children are addressed. S. Augustine thinks that all the readers are included throughout. Christians from one point of view are children, from another young men, and from another old men. This is possible, but it ignores the order in which the three groups are ranged. Comp. Titus 2:1-8 , where S. Paul in like manner gives directions as to the exhortations suitable for Christians of different ages.
ye have known ] Rather, ye know : ‘ye have come to know and therefore know’, as in v. 3. The word expresses the result of progressive experience, and is therefore very suitable to the knowledge possessed by the old.
Him which is from the beginning ] Christ, not the Father, as is plain from the opening words of the Epistle. Moreover, S. John never speaks of the First Person of the Godhead under any designation but ‘God’ or ‘the Father’. By the knowledge which these older Christians had come to possess of Christ is certainly not meant having seen Him in the flesh. Very few of S. John’s readers could have done that; and if they had, S. John would not have attached any moral or spiritual value to the fact. Besides which to express this we should expect ‘ye have seen Jesus Christ’, rather than ‘ye have come to know Him that was from the beginning’.
young men ] The younger among his readers, men in the prime of life.
ye have overcome ] Comp. John 16:33 . Throughout both Gospel and Epistle S. John regards eternal life as a prize already won by the believer (John 3:36 , John 3:5 :24, John 3:6 :47, 54, John 3:17 :3): the contest is not to gain, but to retain. We have perfects in each case (‘have been forgiven’, ‘have come to know’, ‘have overcome’), expressing, as so frequently in S. John, the abiding result of past action. He bases his appeals to the young on the victory which their strength has gained, just as he bases his appeals to the old on the knowledge which their experience has gained.
the wicked one ] It is important to have a uniform rendering for the word here used ( πονηρός ), respecting which there has been so much controversy with regard to the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer. The A. V., following earlier Versions, wavers between ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’, even in the same verse (3:12). ‘Evil’ is to be preferred throughout. Almost all are agreed that the evil one here means the devil, although the Genevan Version has ‘the evil man ’, as in Matthew 12:35 . Wiclif, Tyndale, and Cranmer supply neither ‘man’ nor ‘one’, but write ‘the wicked’ or ‘that wicked.’ ‘The wicked’ in English would inevitably be understood as plural. For this name for Satan comp. v. 18; Matthew 13:19 and also 1 John 3:12 , 1 John 3:5 :19; John 17:15 ; Ephesians 6:16 . In these last four passages the gender, though probably masculine, may, as in Matthew 6:13 , possibly be neuter.
I write unto you, little children ] The true reading, as determined by both internal and external evidence, certainly gives I have written or I wrote . The second triplet begins here, ‘little ones’ ( παιδία , which occurs as a form of address nowhere else in N. T. except v. 18 and John 21:5 ), meaning, as before, all his readers.
ye have known the Father ] Or, as in vv. 3 and 13, ye know . In v. 12 the Apostle attributes to them the possession of spiritual peace through the remission of sins: here he attributes to them the possession of spiritual truth through knowledge of the Father.
14. because ye are strong ] Strong in the spiritual warfare in which they have already won the victory: comp. Hebrews 11:34 , where, however, ‘strong in war’ probably refers to actual warfare between the Jews and other nations.
the word of God abideth in you ] An echo of John 15:7 . This is the secret of their strength and the source of their victory. They conquer because they are strong, and they are strong because God’s word is ever in their hearts. They have God’s will, especially as revealed in Scripture, and in particular in the Gospel, as a permanent power within them: hence the permanence of their victory. So long as they trust in this and not in themselves, and remember that their victory is not yet final, they may rejoice in the confidence which the consciousness of strength and of victory gives them.
It is plain from the context and from John 5:38 , John 5:10 :35, John 5:17 :6, John 5:14 ; Revelation 1:9 , Revelation 6:9 , that ‘the word of God’ here does not mean the Word, the Son of God. S. John never uses the term ‘Word’ in this sense in the body either of his Gospel or of his Epistle, but only in the theological Introductions to each.
15 17. The Things to be Avoided; the World and its Ways
Having reminded them solemnly of the blessedness of their condition as members of the Christian family, whether old or young, and having declared that this blessedness of peace, knowledge, and strength is his reason for writing to them, he goes on to exhort them to live in a manner that shall be worthy of this high estate, and to avoid all that is inconsistent with it.
15. Love not the world ] The asyndeton is remarkable. S. John has just stated his premises, his readers’ happiness as Christians. He now abruptly states the practical conclusion, without any introductory ‘therefore’. As was said above on v. 2, we must distinguish between the various meanings of the Apostle’s favourite word, ‘world.’ In John 3:16 he tells us that ‘God loved the world’, and here he tells us that we must not do so. “S. John is never afraid of an apparent contradiction when it saves his readers from a real contradiction … The opposition which is on the surface of his language may be the best way of leading us to the harmony which lies below it” (Maurice). The world which the Father loves is the whole human race. The world which we are not to love is all that is alienated from Him, all that prevents men from loving Him in return. The world which God loves is His creature and His child: the world which we are not to love is His rival. The best safeguard against the selfish love of what is sinful in the world is to remember God’s unselfish love of the world. ‘The world’ here is that from which S. James says the truly religious man keeps himself ‘unspotted’, friendship with which is ‘enmity with God’ (James 1:27 , James 4:4 ). It is not enough to say that ‘the world’ here means ‘earthly things, so far as they tempt to sin’, or ‘sinful lusts’, or ‘worldly and impious men’. It means all of these together: all that acts as a rival to God; all that is alienated from God and opposed to Him, especially sinful men with their sinful lusts. ‘The world’ and ‘the darkness’ are almost synonymous; to love the one is to love the other (John 3:19 ): to be in the darkness is to be of the world.
neither the things that are in the world ] Or, nor yet the things, &c. , i.e. ‘Love not the world; no, nor anything in that sphere.’ Comp. ‘Not to consort with … no, nor eat with’ (1 Corinthians 5:11 ). ‘The things in the world’, as is plain from v. 16, are not material objects, which can be desired and possessed quite innocently, although they may also be occasions of sin. Rather, they are those elements in the world which are necessarily evil, its lusts and ambitions and jealousies, which stamp it as the kingdom of ‘the ruler of this world’ (John 12:31 ) and not the kingdom of God.
If any man love the world ] Once more, as in v. 1, the statement is made quite general by the hypothetical form: everyone who does so is in this case. The Lord had proclaimed the same principle; ‘No man can serve two masters … Ye cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matthew 6:24 ). So also S. James; ‘Whosoever would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God’ (4:4). Comp. Galatians 1:10 . Thus we arrive at another pair of those opposites of which S. John is so fond. We have had light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate; we now have love of the Father and love of the world. The world which is coextensive with darkness must exclude the God who is light. By writing ‘the love of the Father’ rather than ‘the love of God’ (which some authorities read here) the Apostle points to the duty of Christians as children of God. ‘The love of the Father’ (a phrase which occurs nowhere else) means man’s love to Him, not His to man: see on v. 5. A fragment of Philo declares that ‘it is impossible for love to the world to coexist with love to God’.
16. Proof of the preceding statement by shewing the fundamental opposition in detail.
all that is in the world ] Neuter singular: in v. 15 we had the neuter plural. The material contents of the universe cannot be meant. To say that these did not originate from God would be to contradict the Apostle himself (John 1:3 , John 1:10 ) and to affirm those Gnostic doctrines against which he is contending. The Gnostics, believing everything material to be radically evil, maintained that the universe was created, not by God, but by the evil one, or at least by an inferior deity. By ‘all that is in the world’ is meant the spirit which animates it, its tendencies and tone. These, which are utterly opposed to God, did not originate in Him, but in the free and rebellious wills of His creatures, seduced by ‘the ruler of this world’.
the lust of the flesh ] This does not mean the lust for the flesh, any more than ‘the lust of the eyes’ means the lust for the eyes. In both cases the genitive is not objective but subjective, as is generally the case with genitives after ‘lust’ ( ἐπιθυμία ) in N. T. Comp. Romans 1:24 , Galatians 5:16 , Ephesians 2:3 . The meaning is the lusts which have their seats in the flesh and in the eyes respectively.
“Tell me where is fancy bred.
It is engendered in the eyes .”
Merchant of Venice , III. ii.
The former, therefore, will mean the desire for unlawful pleasures of sense ; for enjoyments which are sinful either in themselves or as being excessive.
Note that S. John does not say ‘the lust of the body .’ ‘The body’ in N.T. is perhaps never used to denote the innately corrupt portion of man’s nature: for that the common term is ‘the flesh.’ ‘The body’ is that neutral portion which may become either good or bad. It may be sanctified as the abode and instrument of the Spirit, or degraded under the tyranny of the flesh.
the lust of the eyes ] The desire of seeing unlawful sights for the sake of the sinful pleasure to be derived from the sight; idle and prurient curiosity. Familiar as S. John’s readers must have been with the foul and cruel exhibitions of the circus and amphitheatre, this statement would at once meet with their assent. Tertullian, though he does not quote this passage in his treatise De Spectaculis , is full of its spirit: “The source from which all circus games are taken pollutes them … What is tainted taints us” (VII., VIII.). Similarly S. Augustine on this passage; “This it is that works in spectacles, in theatres, in sacraments of the devil, in magical arts, in witchcraft; none other than curiosity.” See also Confessions VI. vii., viii., X. xxxv. 55.
the pride of life ] Or, as R. V., the vainglory of life . Latin writers vary much in their renderings: superbia vitae; ambilio saeculi; jactantia hujus vitae; jactantia vitae humanae . The word ( ἀλαζονεία ) occurs elsewhere only James 4:16 , and there in the plural; where A. V. has ‘boastings’ and R. V. ‘vauntings.’ The cognate adjective ( ἀλάζων ) occurs Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2 , where A. V. has ‘boasters’ and R. V. ‘boastful’. Pretentious ostentation, as of a wandering mountebank, is the radical signification of the word. In classical Greek the pretentiousness is the predominant notion; in Hellenistic Greek, the ostentation. Compare the account of this vice in Aristotle ( Nic. Eth. IV. vii.) with Wisd. 5:8, 2 Macc. 9:8, 15:6. Ostentatious pride in the things which one possesses is the signification of the term here; ‘life’ meaning ‘means of life, goods, possessions’. The word for ‘life’ ( βίος ) is altogether different from that used in 1:1, 2 and elsewhere in the Epistle ( ζωή ). This word ( βίος ) occurs again 3:17, and elsewhere in N.T. only 8 times, chiefly in S. Luke. The other word occurs 13 times in this Epistle, and elsewhere in N. T. over 100 times. This is what we might expect. The word used here means (1) period of human life , as 1 Timothy 2:2 ; 2 Timothy 2:4 ; (2) means of life , as here, 3:17, Mark 12:44 ; Luke 8:14 , Luke 8:43 , Luke 8:15 :12, Luke 8:30 , Luke 8:21 :4 (in 1 Peter 4:3 the word is not genuine). With the duration of mortal life and the means of prolonging it the Gospel has comparatively little to do. It is concerned rather with that spiritual life which is not measured by time (1:2), and which is independent of material wealth and food. For this the other word ( ζωή ) is invariably used. By ‘the vainglory of life’ then is meant ostentatious pride in the possession of worldly resources .
These three evil elements or tendencies ‘in the world’ are co-ordinate: no one of them includes the other two. The first two are wrongful desires of what is not possessed; the third is a wrongful behaviour with regard to what is possessed. The first two may be the vices of a solitary; the third requires society. We can have sinful desires when we are alone, but we cannot be ostentatious without company. See Appendix A.
is not of the Father ] Does not derive its origin from ( ἐκ ) Him, and therefore has no natural likeness to Him or connexion with Him. S. John says ‘the Father’ rather than ‘God’ to emphasize the idea of parentage. Its origin is from the world and its ruler, the devil. Comp. ‘Ye are of ( ἐκ ) your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will to do’ (John 8:44 ). The phrase ‘to be of’ is highly characteristic of S. John.
17. and the world passeth away ] Or, is passing away ; as in v. 8 : the process is now going on. We owe the verb ‘pass away’ here to Coverdale: it is a great improvement on Tyndale’s ‘ vanisheth away.’ Comp. ‘The fashion of this world is passing away ’ (1 Corinthians 7:31 ), where the same verb is used, and where the active in a neuter sense is equivalent to the middle here and in v. 8.
and the lust thereof ] Not the lust for the world, but the lust which it exhibits, the sinful tendencies mentioned in v. 16. The world is passing away with all its evil ways. How foolish, therefore, to fix one’s affections on what not only cannot endure but is already in process of dissolution! ‘The lust thereof’ = ‘all that is in the world.’
the will of God ] This is the exact opposite of ‘all that is in the world’. The one sums up all the tendencies to good in the universe, the other all the tendencies to evil. We see once more how S. John in giving us the antithesis of a previous idea expands it and makes it fructify. He says that the world and all its will and ways are on the wane: but as the opposite of this he says, not merely that God and His will and ways abide, but that ‘he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’. This implies that he who follows the ways of the world will not abide for ever. Again he speaks of the love of the world and the love of the Father; but as the opposite of the man who loves the world he says not ‘he that loveth the Father,’ but ‘he that doeth the will of the Father’. This implies that true love involves obedience. Thus we have a double antithesis. On the one hand we have the world and the man who loves it and follows its ways: they both pass away. On the other hand we have God and the man who loves Him and does His will: they both abide for ever. Instead of the goods of this life ( βίος ) in which the world would allow him to vaunt for a moment, he who doeth the will of God has that eternal life ( ζωή ) in which the true Christian has fellowship with God. ‘For ever’ is literally ‘unto the age’, i.e. ‘unto the age to come’, the kingdom of heaven; the word for ‘age’ ( αἰών ) being the substantive from which the word for ‘eternal’ ( αἰώνιος ) is derived. He who does God’s will shall abide until the kingdom of God comes and be a member of it . The latter fact, though not stated, is obviously implied. It would be a punishment and not a blessing to be allowed, like Moses, to see the kingdom but not enter it. The followers of the world share the death of the world: the children of God share His eternal life.
Here probably we should make a pause in reading the Epistle. What follows is closely connected with what precedes and is suggested by it: but there is, nevertheless, a new departure, which is made with much solemnity.
18 26. The Persons to be Avoided; Antichrists
18. Little children ] Or, Little ones . It is difficult to see anything in this section specially suitable to children: indeed the very reverse is rather the case. The same word ( παιδία ) is used here as in v. 14 and John 21:5 . S. John’s readers in general are addressed, irrespective of age. Both his Epistle and Gospel are written for adults and for well-instructed Christians.
it is the last time ] More literally, it is the last hour ; possibly, but not probably, it is a last hour . The omission of the definite article is quite intelligible and not unusual: the idea is sufficiently definite without it, for there can be only one last hour. Similarly (Jude 1:18 ) we have ‘ in (the) last time there shall be mockers walking after their own ungodly lusts’: and (Acts 1:8 , Acts 13:47 ) ‘ unto (the) uttermost part of the earth’. A great deal has been written upon this text in order to avoid a very plain but unwelcome conclusion, that by the ‘last hour’ S. John means the time immediately preceding the return of Christ to judge the world. Hundreds of years have passed away since S. John wrote these words, and the Lord is not yet come. Rather, therefore, than admit an interpretation which seemed to charge the Apostle with a serious error, commentators have suggested all kinds of explanations as substitutes for the obvious one. The following considerations place S. John’s meaning beyond all reasonable doubt.
1. He has just been stating that the world is on the wane and that its dissolution has already begun. 2. He has just declared that the obedient Christian shall abide ‘unto the age’ of Christ’s kingdom of glory. 3. He goes on to give as a proof that it is the ‘last hour’, that many Antichrists have already arisen; it being the common belief of Christians that Antichrist would immediately precede the return of Christ. 4. ‘The last day’ is a phrase peculiar to S. John (John 6:39 , John 6:40 , John 6:44 , John 6:54 , John 6:11 :24, John 6:12 :48), and invariably means the end of the world, not the Christian dispensation. 5. Analogous phrases in other parts of N.T. point in the same direction: ‘In the last days grievous times shall come’ (2 Timothy 3:1 ); ‘Ye are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:5 ); ‘In the last days mockers shall come with mockery’ (2 Peter 3:3 ). These and other passages shew that by ‘the last days’, ‘last time’, ‘last hour’, and the like, Christian writers did not mean the whole time between the first and second coming of Christ, but only the concluding portion of it. 6. We find similar language with similar meaning in the sub-apostolic age. Thus Ignatius ( Eph. XI.) writes; “These are the last times. Henceforth let us be reverent; let us fear the longsuffering of God, lest it turn into a judgment against us. For either let us fear the wrath which is to come, or let us love the grace which now is.”
Of other interpretations of ‘the last hour’ the most noteworthy are these. (1) The Christian dispensation , which we have every reason to believe is the last. This is the sense in which S. John’s words are true ; but this is plainly not his meaning . The appearance of Christ, not of Antichrist, proves that the Christian dispensation is come. (2) A very grievous time , tempora periculosa pessima et abjectissima . This is quite against usage whether in classical or N.T. Greek: comp. 2 Timothy 3:1 . The classical phrase, ‘to suffer the last things’, i.e. ‘to suffer extremities’ ( τὰ ἔσχατα παθεῖν ), supplies no analogy: here the notion of ‘grievous’ comes from the verb. (3) The eve of the destruction of Jerusalem . How could the appearance of Antichrist prove that this had arrived? And Jerusalem had perished at least a dozen years before the probable date of this Epistle. (4) The eve of S. John’s own death . Antichrists could be no sign of that.
It is admitted even by some of those who reject the obvious interpretation that “the Apostles expected a speedy appearing or manifestation of Jesus as the Judge of their nation and of all nations” (Maurice): which is to admit the whole difficulty of the rejected explanation. Only gradually was the vision of the Apostles cleared to see the true nature of the spiritual kingdom which Christ had founded on earth and left in their charge. Even Pentecost did not at once give them perfect insight. Being under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they could not teach what was untrue: but, like the Prophets before them, they sometimes uttered words which were true in a sense far higher than that which was present to their own minds. In this higher sense S. John’s words here are true. Like others, he was wrong in supposing ‘that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear’ (Luke 19:11 ), for ‘it was not for them to know times or seasons which the Father hath set within His own authority’ (Acts 1:7 ). He was right in declaring that, the Messiah having come, it was the ‘last hour’. No event in the world’s history can ever equal the coming of Christ until He comes again. The epoch of Christianity, therefore, is rightly called the ‘last hour’, although it has lasted nearly two thousand years. What is that compared with the many thousands of years since the creation of man, and the limitless geological periods which preceded the creation of man? What again in the eyes of Him in whose sight ‘a thousand years are but yesterday?’
“It may be remarked that the only point on which we can certainly say that the Apostles were in error, and led others into error, is in their expectation of the immediate coming of Christ; and this is the very point which our Saviour says (Mark 13:32 ) is known only to the Father” (Jelf).
as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come ] Better, even as ye heard that Antichrist cometh : the first verb is aorist, not perfect; the second present, not future; and the conjunction is of the same strong form as in v. 6. This seems to be a case in which the aorist should be retained in English (see on v. 11). As in v. 7, the reference is probably to a definite point in their instruction in the faith: and ‘cometh’ should be retained in order to bring out the analogy between the Christ and the Antichrist. The one was hoped for, and the other dreaded, with equal certainty; and hence each might be spoken of as ‘He that cometh’. ‘Art Thou He that cometh ?’ (Matthew 11:3 ; Luke 19:20 ). Comp. Mark 8:38 , Mark 8:11 :9; John 4:25 , John 4:6 :14, John 4:11 :27, &c. &c. And as to the coming of Antichrists the N. T. seems to be as explicit as the O. T. with regard to the coming of Christ. ‘Many shall come in My name, saying I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray … There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible even the elect’ (Matthew 24:5 , Matthew 24:24 ). Comp. Mark 13:22-23 ; Acts 20:29 ; 2 Timothy 3:1 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ; and especially 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , which like the passage before us seems to point to one distinct person or power as the one Antichrist, whose spirit animates all antichristian teachers.
The term ‘Antichrist’ in Scripture occurs only in the First and Second Epistles of S. John (2:18, 22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7 ). The earliest instance of its use outside Scripture is in S. Polycarp ( Ep. ad Phil , VII.), in a passage which shews that this disciple of S. John (a.d. 140 155) knew our Epistle: see on 4:3. The term does not mean merely a mock Christ or false Christ , for which the N.T. term is ‘pseudo-Christ’ (Matthew 24:24 ; Mark 13:22 ). Nor does it mean simply an opponent of Christ , for which we should probably have ‘enemy of Christ’, like ‘enemy of the Cross of Christ’ (Philippians 3:18 ) and ‘enemy of God’ (James 4:4 ). But it includes both these ideas of counterfeiting and opposing; it means an opposition Christ or rival Christ ; just as we call a rival Pope an ‘antipope’. The Antichrist is, therefore, a usurper , who under false pretences assumes a position which does not belong to him, and who opposes the rightful owner. The idea of opposition is the predominant one.
It is not easy to determine whether the Antichrist of S. John is personal or not. But the discussion of this question is too long for a note: see Appendix B.
even now are there many Antichrists ] Better, as R.V., even now have there arisen many Antichrists : the Christ was from all eternity (1:1), the Antichrist and his company arose in time; they are come into being . We have a similar contrast in the Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word’; but ‘There arose a man, sent from God, whose name was John’ (John 1:1 , John 1:6 ). These ‘many Antichrists’ are probably to be regarded as at once forerunners of the Antichrist and evidence that his spirit is already at work in the world: the one fact shews that he is not far distant, the other that in a sense he is already here. In either case we have proof that the return of Christ, which is to be heralded by the appearance of Antichrist, is near.
whereby we know that it is the last time ] Or, whence we come to know that it is the last hour : as in vv. 3 and 5 the verb indicates acquisition of and progress in knowledge. ‘Whence’ in the sense of ‘from which data, from which premises’ hardly occurs elsewhere in N.T. except perhaps in the Epistle to the Hebrews (2:17, 7:25, 8:3), where the same Greek word ( ὅθεν ) is uniformly rendered ‘wherefore’ in both A.V. and R.V.
It is difficult to see what S. John could have meant by this, if by the ‘last hour’ he understood the Christian dispensation as a whole and not the concluding portion of it (comp. 2 Timothy 3:1 ). The multitude of false teachers who were spreading the great lie ( v. 22) that Jesus is not the Christ, were evidence, not of the existence of Christianity, but of antichristianity. Nor could evidence of the former be needed by S. John’s readers. They did not need to be convinced either that the Gospel dispensation had begun, or that it was the last in the history of the Divine Revelation. The Montanist theory that a further dispensation of the Spirit, distinct from that of the Son, was to follow and supersede the Gospel, as the Gospel had superseded Judaism, the dispensation of the Father, was a belief of later growth. (For an account of this theory as elaborated by Joachim of Flora [fl. a.d. 1180 90] see Döllinger’s Prophecies and the Prophetic Spirit in the Christian Era , pp. 114 119.) In the Apostolic age the tendency was all the other way; to believe that the period since the coming of Christ was not only the last in the world’s history, but would be very brief. It was thought that some of the generation then existing might live to see the end (1 Thessalonians 4:15 , 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51 , 1 Corinthians 15:52 ).
19. The relation of these antichristian teachers to the Church of Christ. They were formerly nominal members, but never real members of it. They are now not members in any sense. Note the repetition, so characteristic of S. John, of the key-word ‘us’, which means the Christian Church. It occurs 5 times in this one verse.
They went out from us ] It was their own doing, a distinct secession from our communion: in the Greek, ‘from us’ comes first for emphasis. It is incredible that the words can mean ‘they proceeded from us Jews ’. What point would there be in that? Moreover, S. John never writes as a Jew, but always as a Christian to Christians. ‘Us’ includes all true Christians, whether of Gentile or Jewish origin. Comp. S. Paul’s warning to the Ephesian presbyters; ‘ From among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them’ (Acts 20:30 ); where the Greek is similar to what we have here: and ‘Certain men, the children of Belial’, are gone out from among you , and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known’ (Deuteronomy 13:13 ); where the Greek of LXX. is still closer to this passage.
but they were not of us ] They have a foreign origin. The single act of departure (aorist) is contrasted with the lasting condition of being ‘of us’ (imperfect). ‘Of us’ here is exactly analogous to ‘of the Father’ and ‘of the world’ in v. 16. It is difficult to bring out in English the full force of the antithesis which is so easily expressed in the Greek. ‘From out of us they went forth, but they were not from out of us’; where ‘from out of us’ ( ἐξ ἡμῶν ) is of course used in two different senses, ‘out from our midst’ and ‘originating with us.’
they would no doubt have continued with us ] Better, they would have abided with us : there is nothing in the Greek to represent ‘no doubt,’ and the verb is S. John’s favourite word ‘abide’ (see on v. 24). Almost all the earlier English Versions go wrong as to ‘no doubt’. Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘no dout’, the Genevan has ‘douteles’, and the Rhemish ‘surely’. Probably these are attempts to translate the utique of the Vulgate, permansissent utique nobiscum : and the utique , which is as old as Tertullian ( De Praescr, Haer. III.) is a mistaken endeavour to give a separate word to represent the Greek particle ἄν . Oddly enough, Wiclif, who worked from the Vulgate, has nothing to represent utique ; ‘they hadden dwelte with us. Luther inserts ‘ja’; ‘so wären sie ja bei uns geblieben’; which looks as if he also were under the influence of the utique . There is a similar instance John 8:42 , where Wiclif has ‘ sothli ye schulden love Me’, Cranmer, ‘ truly ye wolde love Me’, and the Rhemish, ‘ verely ye would love Me’, because the Vulgate (not Tertullian) gives diligeretis utique Me for ἠγαπᾶτε ἂν ἐμέ . The meaning here is that secession proves a want of fundamental union from the first. As Tertullian says: Nemo Christianus, nisi qui ad finem persevcraverit . Note that S. John does not say ‘they would have abided among us ( ἐν ἡμῖν ),’ but ‘ with us ( μεθʼ ἡμῶν )’. This brings out more clearly the idea of fellowship : ‘these antichrists had no real sympathy with us’.
but they went out that they might be made manifest ] As the italics in A.V. shew, there is no Greek to represent ‘they went out’. ‘But that’ or ‘but in order that’ ( αʼλλʼ ἵνα ) is an elliptical expression very frequent in S. John’s Gospel (1:8, 9:3, 13:18, 14:31, 15:25). We may often fill up the ellipse in some such way as ‘but this took place ’, or ‘this came to pass , in order that’. S. John’s favourite construction ‘in order that’ (see on 1:9) again points to the Divine government of events. It was in accordance with God’s will that these spurious members should be made known as such. The process which all through his Gospel the Apostle depicts as a necessary result of Christ’s coming, still continues after His departure; the separation of light from darkness, of the Church from the world, of real from unreal Christians (see introductory note to John v.). S. John assures his readers that the appearance of error and unbelief in the Church need not shake their faith in it: it is all in accordance with the Divine plan. Revelation of the truth necessarily causes a separation between those who accept and those who reject it, and is designed to do so. God does not will that any should reject the truth; but He wills that those who reject should be made manifest. S. Paul states this truth the other way; that the faithful need to be distinguished. ‘For there must be also heresies among you, that ( ἵνα ) they which are approved may be made manifest among you’ (1 Corinthians 11:19 ).
that they were not all of us ] Or, that not all are of us , as in the margin of R.V. But this is doubtful; the Greek being οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες , not οὐ πάντες εἰσιν . The Greek is somewhat ambiguous, but certainly we must have ‘are’ and not ‘were’. Two ideas seem to be in the Apostle’s mind, and his words may be the expression partly of the one, and partly of the other: 1. that these antichrists may be made manifest as not really of us; 2. that it may be made manifest that not all professing Christians are really of us.
In this verse S. John does not teach that the Christian cannot fall away; his exhortations to his readers not to love the world, but to abide in Christ, is proof of that. He is only putting in another form the declaration of Christ, ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand’ (John 10:28 ). Apostasy is possible, but only for those who have never really made Christ their own, never fully given themselves to Him.
20. But ye have an unction from the holy One ] Better, as R.V., And ye have an anointing (as in v. 27) from the Holy One . S. John, in his manner, puts two contrasted parties side by side, the Antichrist with his antichrists, and the Christ with His christs; but the fact of there being a contrast does not warrant us in turning S. John’s simple ‘and’ ( καί ) into ‘but’. Tyndale holds fast to ‘and’, in spite of Wiclif’s ‘but’ and the Vulgate’s sed. Just as the Antichrist has his representatives, so the Anointed One, the Christ, has His. All Christians in a secondary sense are what Christ is in a unique and primary sense, the Lord’s anointed. ‘These anointed’, says the Apostle to his readers, ‘ ye are’. The ‘ye’ is not only expressed in the Greek, but stands first after the conjunction for emphasis: ‘ye’ in contrast to these apostates. The word for ‘anointing’ or ‘unction’ ( χρίσμα ) strictly means the ‘completed act of anointing:’ but in LXX. it is used of the unguent or anointing oil (Exodus 30:25 ); and Tyndale, Cranmer and the Genevan have ‘oyntment’ here. In N.T, it occurs only here and v. 27. Kings, priests, and sometimes prophets were anointed, in token of their receiving Divine grace. Hence oil both in O. and N.T. is a figure of the Holy Spirit (Psalms 45:6 , Psalms 45:7 , 105:15; Isaiah 61:1 ; Acts 10:38 ; Hebrews 1:9 ; 2 Corinthians 1:21 ). It is confusing cause and effect to suppose that this passage was influenced by the custom of anointing candidates at baptism: the custom though ancient (for it is mentioned by S. Cyril of Jerusalem, c. a.d. 350, Catech. Lect , XXI. 3, 4), is later than this Epistle. More probably the custom was suggested by this passage. The opening of S. Cyril’s 21st Lecture throws much light on this passage. “Having been baptized into Christ and … being made partakers of Christ, ye are properly called christs , and of you God said, Touch not My christs, or anointed. Now ye were made christs by receiving the emblem of the Holy Spirit ; and all things were in a figure wrought in you, because ye are figures of Christ. He also bathed Himself in the river Jordan, and … came up from them; and the Holy Spirit in substance lighted on Him, like resting upon like. In the same manner to you also, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, was given the unction, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Spirit”. Similarly S. Augustine; “In the unction we have a sacramental sign ( sacramentum ); the virtue itself is invisible. The invisible unction is the Holy Spirit ( Hom . III. 12).
It may be doubted whether S. John in this verse makes any allusion to the anointing which was a feature in some Gnostic systems.
from the holy One ] This almost certainly means Christ , in accordance with other passages both in S. John and elsewhere (John 6:69 ; Revelation 3:7 ; Mark 1:24 ; Acts 3:14 ; Ps. 20:10), and in harmony with Christ being called ‘righteous’ in vv ,. 1, 29, and ‘pure’ in 3:3. Moreover in John 14:26 , John 14:15 :26, John 14:16 :7, John 14:14 Christ promises to give the Holy Spirit. It may possibly mean God the Father (Habakkuk 3:3 ; Hosea 11:9 ; 1 Corinthians 6:19 ). It cannot well mean the Holy Spirit, unless some other meaning be found for ‘anointing’.
and ye know all things ] There is very high authority for reading and ye all know ( this ), or, omitting the conjunction and placing a colon after ‘Holy One’, ye all know ( this ). If the reading followed in A.V. and R.V. be right, the meaning is, ‘It is you (and not these antichristian Gnostics who claim it) that are, in virtue of the anointing of the Spirit of truth, in the possession of the true knowledge’. Christians are in possession of the truth in a far higher sense than any unchristian philosopher. All the unbeliever’s knowledge is out of balance and proportion. The assertion here is strictly in harmony with the promise of Christ; ‘When He, the Spirit of truth is come, He shall guide you into all the truth ’ (John 16:13 ). In the same spirit S. Ignatius writes, “ None of these things is hidden from you , if ye be perfect in your faith and love towards Jesus Christ” ( Eph. xiv. 1); and similarly S. Polycarp, “ Nothing is hidden from you ” ( Phil. xii. 1). Comp. ‘They that seek the Lord understand all things’ (Proverbs 28:5 ).
21. I have not written ] Literally, as in vv. 13, 14, 26, I wrote not , or, did not write : it is the aorist in the Greek. But (whatever may be true of vv. 13, 14) what we have here is almost certainly the epistolary aorist , which may be represented in English either by the present or by the perfect. ‘I have written’ probably does not refer to the whole letter, but only to this section about the antichrists; this seems clear from v. 26. ‘Do not think from my warning you against lying teachers that I suspect you of being ignorant of the truth: you who have been anointed with the Spirit of truth cannot be ignorant of the truth. I write as unto men who will appreciate what I say. I write, not to teach, but to confirm’. “S. John does not treat Christianity as a religion containing elements of truth, or even more truth than any religion which had preceded it. S. John presents Christianity to the soul as a religion which must be everything to it, if it is not really to be worse than nothing” (Liddon).
because ye know not the truth; but because ye know it, and that, &c. ] There are no less than three ways of taking this, depending upon the meaning given to the thrice-repeated conjunction ( ὅτι ), which in each place may mean either ‘because’ or ‘that’. 1. As A.V.; because , … but because … and that . The A.V. follows the earlier Versions in putting ‘that’ in the last clause: so Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, &c. 2. As R.V.; ‘because’ in each clause. 3. ‘That’ in each clause: ‘I have not written that ye know not the truth, but that ye know it, and that &c.’ This last is almost certainly wrong. As in vv. 13, 14 the verb ‘write’ introduces the reason for writing and not the subject-matter or contents of the Epistle. And if the first conjunction is ‘because’, it is the simplest and most natural to take the second and third in the same way. The Apostle warns them against antichristian lies, not because they are ignorant, but (1) because they possess the truth, and (2) because every kind of lie is utterly alien to the truth they possess. “There is the modesty and the sound philosophy of an Apostle! Many of us think that we can put the truth into people, by screaming it into their ears. We do not suppose that they have any truth in them to which we can make appeal. S. John had no notion that he could be of use to his dear children at Ephesus unless there was a truth in them, a capacity of distinguishing truth from lies, a sense that one must be the eternal opposition of the other” (Maurice).
no lie is of the truth ] Literally, every lie is not-of-the truth: the negative belongs to the predicate (comp. 3:15). ‘Of the truth’ here is exactly analogous to ‘of the Father’ and ‘of the world’ in v. 16 and to ‘of us’ in v. 19. Every lie is in origin utterly removed from the truth: the truth springs from God; lying from the devil, ‘for he is a liar and the father thereof’ (John 8:44 ). See on v. 16.
22. Who is a liar ] More accurately, as R.V., Who is the liar : the A.V. here again follows the earlier English Versions. But we must beware of exaggerating the article in interpretation , although it is right to translate it. It merely marks the passage from the abstract to the concrete: ‘Every lie is absolutely alien from the truth. Who then is the one who speaks lies? There are no liars if he who denies that Jesus is the Christ is not one’. The exactly parallel construction in 5:4, 5 shews that ‘the liar’ here does not mean ‘the greatest liar possible’. Moreover, this would not be true. Is denying that Jesus is the Christ a greater lie than denying the existence of the Son, or of God?
The abruptness of the question is startling. Throughout these verses (22 24) “clause stands by clause in stern solemnity without any connecting particles.”
but he that denieth ] These Gnostic teachers, who profess to be in possession of the higher truth, are really possessed by one of the worst of lies. For the way in which the Gnostics denied the fundamental Christian truth of the Incarnation see the Introduction, p. 19.
He is Antichrist ] Better, as R.V., This is the antichrist , or The antichrist is this man: ‘this’, as in v. 25 and 1:5, may be the predicate. The article before ‘antichrist’, almost certainly spurious in v. 18, is certainly genuine here, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7 . But ‘the antichrist’ here probably does not mean the great personal rival of Christ, but the antichristian teacher who is like him and in this matter acts as his mouth-piece.
that denieth the Father and the Son ] This clause is substituted for ‘that denieth that Jesus is the Christ’. By this substitution, which is quite in S. John’s manner, he leads us on to see that to deny the one is to deny the other. Jesus is the Christ, and the Christ is the Son of God; therefore to deny that Jesus is the Christ is to deny the Son. And to deny the Son is to deny the Father; not merely because Son and Father are correlatives and mutually imply one another, but because the Son is the revelation of the Father, without whom the Father cannot be known. ‘Neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him ’ (Matthew 11:27 ). ‘No one cometh unto the Father but by Me ’ (John 14:6 ). Comp. John 5:23 , John 15:23 . Some would put a full stop at ‘antichrist,’ and connect what follows with v. 23, thus; This is the antichrist. He that denieth the Father (denieth) the Son also: every one that denieth the Son hath not the Father either .
23. The previous statement is emphasized by an expansion of it stated both negatively and positively. The expansion consists in declaring that to deny the Son is not merely to do that, and indeed not merely to deny the Father, but also ( οὐδέ ) to debar oneself from communion with the Father. So that we now have a third consequence of denying that Jesus is the Christ. To deny this is (1) to deny the Son, which is (2) to deny the Father, which is (3) to be cut off from the Father. ‘To have the Father’ must not be weakened to mean ‘to hold as an article of faith that He is the Father’; still less, ‘to know the Father’s will’. It means, quite literally, ‘to have Him as his own Father’. Those who deny the Son cancel their own right to be called ‘sons of God’: they ipso facto excommunicate themselves from the great Christian family in which Christ is the Brother, and God is the Father, of all believers. ‘To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God ’ (John 1:12 ).
but he that acknowledged the Son ] Better, as R. V., he that confesseth the Son: it is the same verb ( ὁμολογεῖν ) as is used 1:9, 4:2, 3, 15; 2 John 1:7 . It is surprising that A. V., while admitting the passage about the three Heavenly Witnesses (5:7) without any mark of doubtfulness, prints the second half of this verse in italics, as if there were nothing to represent it in the Greek. Excepting the ‘but’, the sentence is undoubtedly genuine, being found in all the best MSS. ( א ABC) and many other authorities. A few authorities omit it accidentally, owing to the two halves of the verse ending in the Greek with the same three words ( τὸν πατέρα ἔχει ). Tyndale and the Genevan omit the sentence: Cranmer and the Rhemish retain it; Cranmer marking it as wanting authority, and both omitting ‘but’, which Wiclif inserts, although there is no conjunction in the Vulgate. The asyndeton is impressive and continues through three verses, 22, 23, 24. “The sentences fall on the reader’s soul like notes of a trumpet. Without cement, and therefore all the more ruggedly clasping each other, they are like a Cyclopean wall” (Haupt). It would be possible to translate, ‘He that confesseth, hath the Son and the Father’ (comp. 2 John 1:9 ): but this is not probable.
24. Let that therefore abide in you ] The ‘therefore’ is undoubtedly to be omitted: it is a mistaken insertion in many of those inferior MSS. which omit the second half of v. 23. This verse begins with a very emphatic pronoun; As for you (in contrast to these antichristian liars), let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning . The pronoun in the Greek is a nominativus pendens : comp. John 6:39 , John 6:7 :38, John 6:14 :12, John 6:15 :2, John 6:17 :2; Revelation 2:26 , Revelation 2:3 :12, Revelation 2:21 . The verb is an aorist and should be retained as such, as in v. 7: it points to the definite period when they were first instructed in the faith. ‘Hold fast the Gospel which ye first heard, and reject the innovations of these false teachers’.
If that which ye have heard … shall remain in you, ye also shall continue ] Better, as R. V., if that which ye heard … abide in you, ye also shall abide . Here the arbitrary distinctions introduced by the translators of 1611 reach a climax: the same Greek word ( μένειν ) is rendered in three different ways in the same verse. Elsewhere it is rendered in four other ways, making seven English words to one Greek: ‘dwell’ (John 1:39 , John 1:6 :56, John 1:14 :10, John 1:17 ), ‘tarry’ (4:40, 21:22, 23), ‘endure’ (6:27), ‘be present’ (14:25). The translators in their Address to the Reader tell us that these changes were often made knowingly and sometimes of set purpose. They are generally regrettable, and here are doubly so: (1) an expression characteristic of S. John and of deep meaning is blurred, (2) the emphasis gained by iteration, which is also characteristic of S. John, is entirely lost. ‘Let the truths which were first taught you have a home in your hearts: if these have a home in you, ye also shall have a home in the Son and in the Father’.
25. And this is the promise that he hath promised us ] Or, and the promise which He promised us is this : the aorist had better be retained, and ‘this’ is probably the predicate, referring to what follows (comp. 5:22, 1:5, 5:14) and not the subject, referring to what precedes. This view is confirmed by 3:23 and 5:11. The connexion with what precedes is close, ‘eternal life’ being only another view of ‘abiding in the Father and the Son’. The ‘He’ is emphatic, and perhaps ‘He Himself would not be too strong as a rendering. Of course Christ is meant, “who in this whole passage forms the centre round which all the statements of the Apostle move” (Huther). For the promise see John 3:15 , John 3:4 :14, John 3:6 :40, &c. &c. The best MS. (B) reads ‘promised you ’, for ‘promised us ’.
26. These things have I written unto you ] ‘These things’ probably mean the warnings about the antichrists, not the whole Epistle. ‘I have written’, or ‘I wrote’, is the epistolary aorist as in v. 21.
that seduce you ] Better, that lead you astray , i.e. that are endeavouring to do so. It is the active of the verb which is used in 1:8 (see note there); and the present participle, which indicates the tendency and habit, but not the success, of the antichristian teachers.
27, 28. The Place of Safety; Christ
27. But the anointing which ye have received ] As in v. 2, we have the false and the true Christians put side by side in contrast; but this does not justify us in turning S. John’s simple ‘and’ ( καί ) into ‘but’. As in v. 24, we have the pronoun put first with great emphasis, and as a nominativus pendens . Moreover, the reception of the chrism refers to the definite occasion when Christ poured out His Spirit upon them, viz. their baptism; and therefore the aorist should be retained. Wherefore, as R. V., And as for you , the anointing which ye received .
abideth in you ] We often, in order to convey a command or a rebuke gently, state as a fact what ought to be a fact. This is perhaps S. John’s meaning here. If not, it is an expression of strong confidence in those whom he adresses.
ye need not that any man teach you ] This seems to confirm the reading ‘ye know all things’ in v. 20. The believer who has once been anointed with the Spirit of truth has no need even of an Apostle’s teaching. This seems to be quite conclusive against ‘little children’ anywhere in this Epistle meaning children in years or children in knowledge of the Gospel. S. John writes throughout for adult and well-instructed Christians, to whom he writes not to give information, but to confirm and enforce and perhaps develope what they have all along known. Of course S. John does not mean that the anointing with the Spirit supersedes all necessity for instruction. The whole Epistle, and in this chapter vv. 6, 7, 24, are conclusive against such a view. S. John assumes that his readers have been thoroughly instructed in ‘the word’ and ‘the truth’, before receiving the outpouring of the Spirit which shews them the full meaning of ‘the word’ and confirms them in ‘the truth’. If S. John has no sympathy with a knowledge which professed to rise higher than Christian teaching, still less has he sympathy with a fanaticism which would dispense with Christian teaching. While he condemns the Gnosticism of his own age, he gives no encouragement to the Montanism of a century later.
but as the same anointing … ye shall abide in him ] We have here to settle, first the question of readings, and then the question of construction. ‘But as His anointing’ ( א BC, Vulgate, Syriac) is certainly superior to ‘But as the same anointing’ (AKL, Coptic), and still more is ‘ ye abide ’ or ‘ abide ye ’ ( א ABC, Versions) superior to ‘ye shall abide’ (KL). The A. V. deserts Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish, to follow the Genevan in adopting the future. The construction is not so easily determined, but does not seriously affect the sense. We may render, (1) But as His anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true , and is no lie, and even as it taught you , do ye abide in Him ; making only one sentence with a long protasis. Or (2) we may break it into two sentences, each with a protasis and apodosis; But as His anointing teacheth you concerning all things, it is true and is no lie; and even as it taught you , do ye abide in Him , The majority of English Versions, including R.V., are for the former: so also the Vulgate. Commentators are much divided; but Huther claims to have most on his side for the latter. He has against him Alford, Braune, De Wette, Düsterdieck, Ewald, Lücke, Neander, Westcott. The sentence seems to be a recapitulation of the section. ‘As His anointing teaches you concerning all things’ recalls v. 20; ‘is true and is no lie’ recalls vv. 21 23; ‘do ye abide in Him’ recalls vv. 24, 25. Probably we ought to supply a new nominative for ‘taught’, viz. ‘He’, i.e. Christ understood from ‘in Him’. This explains the difference of tense: ‘taught’ refers to the gift of the Spirit of truth made once for all by Christ; ‘teacheth’ to the continual illumination which is the result of the gift. It is comparatively unimportant whether we consider ‘do ye abide’ ( μένετε ) as indicative, like ‘abideth’ just before, or as imperative, like ‘abide’ in the next verse. See on v. 29.
28. And now ] Introducing the practical conclusion: comp. John 17:5 , where Jesus, ‘having accomplished the work given Him to do’, prays, ‘ And now , O Father, glorify Thou Me’. So also in Acts 7:34 , Acts 10:5 . See on 2 John 1:5 . Haupt thinks that ‘And now’ introduces the new division of the Epistle, which almost all agree begins near this point. The truth seems to be that these two verses (28, 29) are at once the conclusion of one division and the beginning of another.
little children ] Recalling the beginning of this section, v. 18: it is the same word ( τέκνια ) as is used in vv. 1, 12, and means all S. John’s readers.
that, when he shall appear ] Better, as R.V., that . if He shall be manifested . The ‘when’ ( ὅταν ) of A.V. (KL) must certainly give place to ‘if’ ( ἐάν ), which is more difficult and has overwhelming support ( א ABC). ‘If’ seems to imply a doubt as to Christ’s return, and the change to ‘when’ has probably been made to avoid this. But ‘if’ implies no doubt as to the fact , it merely implies indifference as to the time : ‘if He should return in our day’ (see on John 6:62 , John 12:32 , John 14:3 ). Be manifested is greatly superior to ‘appear’ (as Augustine’s manifestatus fuerit is superior to the Vulgate’s apparuerit ) because (1) the Greek verb is passive; (2) it is a favourite word ( φανεροῦν ) with S. John and should be translated uniformly in order to mark this fact (1:2, 2:19, 3:2, 5, 8, 4:9; Revelation 3:18 , Revelation 3:15 :4; John 1:31 , John 1:3 :21, &c. &c). As applied to Christ it is used of His being manifested in His Incarnation (1:2, 3:5, 8), in His words and works (John 2:11 , John 17:6 ), in His appearances after the Resurrection (John 21:1 , John 21:14 ), in His return to judgment (here and 3:2). S. John alone uses the word in this last sense, for which other N.T. writers have ‘to be revealed’ ( ἀποκαλύπτεσθαι ), a verb never used by S. John excepting once (John 12:38 ) in a quotation from O.T. (Isaiah 63:1 ), where he is under the influence of the LXX.
we may have confidence ] The R. V. has we may have boldness . At first sight this looks like one of those small changes which have been somewhat hastily condemned as ‘vexatious, teasing, and irritating’. The A. V. wavers between ‘boldness’ (4:17; Acts 4:13 , Acts 4:29 , Acts 4:31 , &c.) and ‘confidence’, with occasionally ‘boldly’ (Hebrews 4:16 ) instead of ‘with boldness’. The R. V. consistently has ‘boldness’ in all these places. The Greek word ( παῤῥησία ) means literally ‘freedom in speaking , readiness to say anything , frankness, intrepidity’. In this Epistle and that to the Hebrews it means especially the fearless trust with which the faithful soul meets God: 3:21, 4:17, 5:14. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:19 .
not be ashamed before him ] This cannot well be improved, but it is very inadequate: the Greek is ‘be ashamed from Him’, or ‘be shamed away from Him’; strikingly indicating the averted face and shrinking form which are the results of the shame. ‘Turn with shame’ or ‘shrink with shame from Him’ have been suggested as renderings. Similarly, in Matthew 10:28 , ‘Be not afraid of them is literally ‘Do not shrink away in text from them’. The interpretation ‘receive shame from Him’ is probably not right. Comp. the LXX. of Isaiah 1:29 ; Jeremiah 2:36 , Jeremiah 12:13 .
at his coming ] The Greek word ( παρουσία = presence) occurs nowhere else in S. John’s writings. In N. T. it amounts almost to a technical term to express Christ’s return to judgment (Matthew 24:3 , Matthew 24:27 , Matthew 24:37 , Matthew 24:39 ; 1 Corinthians 15:23 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:19 , 1 Thessalonians 2:3 :13, 1 Thessalonians 2:4 :15, 1 Thessalonians 2:5 :23; James 5:7 , James 5:8 ; 2 Peter 1:16 , &c). S. John uses it, as he uses ‘the Word’ and ‘the evil one’, without explanation, confident that his readers understand it. This is one of many small indications that he writes to well-instructed believers, not to children or the recently converted.
S. John’s divisions are seldom made with a broad line across the text (see on 3:10 and 24). The parts dovetail into one another and intermingle in a way that at times looks like confusion. Wherever we may place the dividing line we find similar thoughts on each side of it. Such is the case here. If we place the line between vv. 27, 28 we have the idea of abiding in Christ ( vv. 24, 27, 28) on both sides of it. If we place it between vv. 28, 29, we have the idea of Divine righteousness and holiness (1:9, 2:1, 12, 20, 29) prominent in both divisions. If we make the division coincide with the chapters, we have the leading ideas of boldness towards Christ and God ( v. 28, 3:2, 21, 4:17, 5:14), of Christ’s return to judgment ( v. 28, 3:2, 4:17), of doing righteousness ( v. 29, 3:7 10), and of Divine sonship ( v. 29, 3:1, 2, &c.), on both sides of the division. It seems quite clear therefore that both these verses (28, 29) belong to both portions of the Epistle, and that v. 29 at any rate is more closely connected with what follows than with what precedes.
The close connexion between the parts must not lead us to suppose that there is no division here at all. The transition is gentle and gradual, but when it is over we find ourselves on new ground. The antithesis between light and darkness is replaced by that between love and hate. The opposition between the world and God becomes the opposition between the world and God’s children. The idea of having fellowship with God is transformed into that of being sons of God. Walking in the light is spoken of as doing righteousness. And not only do previous thoughts, if they reappear, assume a new form, but new thoughts also are introduced: the Second Advent, the boldness of the faithful Christian, the filial relation between believers and God. Although there may be uncertainty to where the new division should begin, there is none as to fact of there being one.
2:29 5:12. God is Love
There seems to be no serious break in the Epistle from this point onwards until we reach the concluding verses which form a sort of summary (5:13 21). The key-word ‘love’ is distributed, and not very unevenly, over the whole, from 3:1 Timothy 5:3 . Subdivisions, however, exist and will be pointed out as they occur. The next two subdivisions may be marked thus; The Children of God and the Children of the Devil (2:29 3:12); Love and Hate (3:13 24). The two, as we shall find, are closely linked together, and might be placed under one heading, thus; The Righteousness of the Children of God in their relation to the Hate of the World .
2:29 3:12. The Children of God and the Children of the Devil
29. If ye know that he is righteous ] This probably does not mean Christ, although the preceding verse refers entirely to Him. ‘To be born of Christ’, though containing “nothing abhorrent from our Christian ideas”, is not a Scriptural expression; whereas ‘to be born of God’ is not only a common thought in Scripture, but is specially common in this Epistle and occurs in the very next verse. And clearly ‘He’ and ‘Him’ must be interpreted alike: it destroys the argument ( justus justum gignit , as Bengel puts it) to interpret ‘He is righteous’ of Christ and ‘born of Him’ of God. Moreover, this explanation gets rid of one abrupt change by substituting another still more abrupt. That ‘He, Him, His’ in v. 28 means Christ, and ‘He, Him’ in v. 29 means God, is some confirmation of the view that a new division of the letter begins with v. 29. That ‘God is righteous’ see 1:9 and John 17:25 . But S. John is so full of the truth that Christ and the Father are one, and that Christ is God revealed to man, that he makes the transition from one to the other almost imperceptibly. Had his readers asked him of one of these ambiguous passages, ‘Are you speaking of Christ or of God’? he would perhaps have replied, ‘Does it matter’?
ye know ] Or, know ye ; but this is less probable, though the Vulgate has scitote , and Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish, all take it as imperative. ‘Ye know’ is more in harmony with vv. 20, 21. It is remarkable how frequently in S. John’s writings we are in doubt as to whether a verb is imperative or indicative ( v. 27, John 5:39 , John 12:19 , John 14:1 , John 15:18 ). Even in v. 28, though there is scarcely a doubt, it is possible to take ‘abide’ as an indicative. After, ‘ye know that every one’ we must supply ‘also’; ye know that every one also .
There is a change of verb from ‘if ye know’ ( ἐὰν εἰδῆτε ) to ‘ye know that’ ( γινώσκετε ὅτι ). The former means ‘to have intuitive knowledge’ or simply ‘to be aware of the fact’ ( vv. 11, 20, 21): the latter means ‘to come to know, learn by experience, recognise, perceive’ ( vv. 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 18). ‘If ye are aware that God is righteous, ye cannot fail to perceive that &c.’ Comp. ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt understand (get to know) hereafter’ (John 13:7 ); ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou perceivest that I love Thee’ (21:17): and the converse change: ‘If ye had learned to know Me, ye would know My Father also’ (14:7; comp. 8:55).
which doeth righteousness ] Perhaps we should translate, that doeth His righteousness . It is literally, that doeth the righteousness ; but in Greek the definite article is often equivalent to our possessive pronoun. Or ‘the righteousness’ may mean ‘the righteousness which is truly such’: comp. ‘to do the truth’ (1:6). The present tense expresses habitual action.
is born of him ] Literally, hath been begotten from Him . Only he who habitually does righteousness is a true son of the God who is righteous; just as only he who habitually walks in the light has true fellowship with the God who is light (1:6, 7). In a similar spirit S. Paul says, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness’ (2 Timothy 2:19 ). Other signs of Divine birth are love of the brethren (4:7) and faith in Jesus as the Christ (5:1).
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"Commentary on 1 John 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany