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1. what manner of ] The same word ( ποταπός ) occurs Matthew 8:27 ; Mark 13:1 ; Luke 1:29 , Luke 1:7 :39; 2 Peter 3:11 : it always implies astonishment, and generally admiration. The radical signification is ‘of what country’, the Latin cujas ; which, however, is never used as its equivalent in the Vulgate, because in N. T. the word has entirely lost the notion of place. It has become qualis rather than cujas : ‘what amazing love’. In LXX. the word does not occur.
love ] This is the key-word of this whole division of the Epistle (2:19 5:12), in which it occurs 16 times as a substantive, 25 as a verb, and 5 times in the verbal adjective ‘beloved’. The phrase ‘to bestow love’ occurs nowhere else in N. T.
the Father … upon us ] In the Greek these words are in striking juxtaposition: to us miserable sinners the Father hath given this priceless right. ‘The Father’ rather than ‘God’, because of what follows: He who is the Father is our Father.
that we should be called ] Literally, in order that we should be called : it is S. John’s characteristic construction ( ἵνα ), as in 1:9. “The final particle has its full force” (Westcott): comp. vv. 11, 23, 4:21; John 13:34 , John 13:15 :12, John 13:17 . This was the purpose of His love, its tendency and direction. ‘That we should be’ must not be understood as future: we already have the title.
the sons of God ] So the earlier English Versions: better, as R. V., children of God . There is no article in the Greek; and we must not confuse S. Paul’s expression, ‘sons of God’ ( υἱοί ) with S. John’s ( τέκνα ). The confusion has arisen in English Versions through the filii Dei of the Vulgate. Both Apostles tell us that the fundamental relation of believers to God is a filial one: but while S. Paul gives us the legal side (adoption), S. John gives us the natural side (generation). The latter is the closer relationship of the two. But we must remember that in the Roman Law, under which S. Paul lived, adoption was considered as absolutely equivalent to actual parentage. In this ‘unique apostrophe’ in the centre of the Epistle two of its central leading ideas meet, Divine love and Divine sonship; a love which has as its end and aim that men should be called children of God. After ‘children of God’ we must insert on overwhelming authority ( א ABC and Versions), and we are: God has allowed us to be called children, and we are children. The simus of the Vulgate and S. Augustine and the ‘and be ’ of the Rhemish are probably wrong. The present indicative after ἵνα is not impossible: but would S. John have put ‘called’ in the subjunctive, and ‘are’ in the indicative, if the two verbs were co-ordinate?
therefore ] Better, as R. V., for this cause ( διὰ τοῦτο ), reserving ‘therefore’ for a particle ( οὖν ) which is very frequent in the narrative portions of the Gospel, but does not occur in this Epistle (it is not genuine in 2:24 or 4:19). Tyndale, Cranmer, the Genevan and the Rhemish all have ‘for this cause’: the A. V., as not unfrequently, has altered for the worse. It may be doubted whether the R. V. has not here altered the punctuation for the worse, in putting a full stop at ‘we are’. ‘For this cause’ in S. John does not merely anticipate the ‘because’ or ‘that’ which follows; it refers to what precedes. ‘We are children of God; and for this cause the world knows us not: because the world knew Him not’. The third sentence explains how the second sentence follows from the first. Comp. John 5:16 , John 5:18 , John 5:7 :22, John 5:8 :47, John 5:10 :17, John 5:12 :18, John 5:27 , John 5:39 . For ‘the world’ see on 2:2. S. Augustine compares the attitude of the world towards God to that of sick men in delirium who would do violence to their physician.
2. Beloved ] This form of address only occurs once in the first part of the Epistle (2:7), just where the subject of love appears for a few verses: it becomes the more common form of address ( vv. 2, 21, 4:1, 7, 11) now that the main subject is love. Similarly, in v. 13, where brotherly love is the special subject, ‘brethren’ is the form of address.
now are we the sons of God ] Rather, as before, now are we children of God . ‘Now’ is placed first in emphatic contrast to ‘not yet,’ which has a similar position. Our privileges in this world are certain; our glories in the world to come still continue veiled. The term ‘children’ is in harmony with this: ‘child’ necessarily implies future development; ‘son’ does not.
it doth not yet appear ] Better, as R. V., it is not yet made manifest ; it is the same verb as we have already had 1:2, 2:19, 28. As it is one of S. John’s favourite expressions it is all the more important that it should be rendered in the same way throughout his writings. See on 2:28.
but we know that, when he shall appear ] The ‘but’ must be omitted on overwhelming evidence ( א ABC, Vulgate): We know that if it shall be manifested . Here there is no difference of reading (as there is in 2:28) between ‘when’ and ‘if’; but earlier English Versions, under the influence of the Vulgate ( cum apparuerit ), have ‘when’ in both cases. ‘If’ in both cases is right; but it has been either changed in the Greek, or shirked in translation, as appearing to imply a doubt respecting the manifestation. It implies no doubt as to the fact, but shews that the results of the fact are more important than the time : comp. ‘ if I be lifted up from the earth’, and ‘ If I go and prepare a place for you’ (John 12:32 , John 14:3 ).
It is less easy to determine between ‘if it shall be manifested’ and ‘if He shall be manifested; ‘it’ meaning what we shall be hereafter, and ‘He’ meaning Christ. No nominative is expressed in the Greek, and it is rather violent to supply a new nominative, differing from that of the very same verb in the previous sentence: therefore ‘it’ seems preferable. ‘We know that if our future state is made manifest we, who are children of God, shall be found like our Father’. On the other hand, 2:28 favours ‘if He shall be manifested.’ The word for know ( οἴδαμεν ) is that used in 2:20, 21, not that used in 2:3, 13, 14, 18, 3:1. No progress in knowledge is implied, no additional experience: our future resemblance to our Father is a fact of which as Christians we are aware: comp. 5:18, 19, 20.
we shall be like him ] If we render ‘if He (i.e. Christ) shall be manifested’, this naturally means ‘we shall be like Christ; ’ which, however true in itself, is not the point. The point is that children are found to be like their Father. This is an additional reason for preferring ‘if it shall be manifested’. Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘it’, Wiclif, Genevan, and Rhemish have ‘he’.
for we shall see him as he is ] Better, because we shall see Him even as He is; ‘because’ as in vv. 9, 20, 22, 2:13, 14, &c., and ‘even as’ as in vv. 3, 7, 23, 2:6, 27, &c. ‘Because’ or ‘for’ may give the cause either (1) of our knowing that we shall be like Him, or (2) of our being like Him. Both make good sense; but, in spite of ‘we know’ being the principal sentence grammatically , the statement which most needs explanation is the subordinate one, that we shall be like God. ‘We shall be like Him’, says the Apostle, ‘because, as you know, we shall see Him’. Comp. ‘But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 ); the sight of God will glorify us. This also is in harmony with the prayer of the great High Priest; ‘And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given unto them’ (John 17:22 ). Comp. ‘And they shall see His face’ (Revelation 22:4 ). The ‘ even as’ emphasizes the reality of the sight: no longer ‘in a mirror, darkly’, but ‘face to face’.
3. that hath this hope in him ] This is certainly wrong: the preposition is ‘on’, not ‘in’, and ‘Him’ is either the Father or Christ; probably the former. It is precisely the man who has the hope, based upon God, of one day being like Him, that purifies himself. For the construction ‘to have hope on ’ a person comp. ‘ On Him shall the Gentiles hope’ (Romans 15:12 ; comp. 1 Timothy 4:10 , 1 Timothy 6:17 ).
purifieth himself ] In LXX. this verb ( ἁγνίζειν ) is used chiefly in a technical sense of ceremonial purifications, e.g. of the priests for divine service: and so also even in N. T. (John 11:55 ; Acts 21:24 , Acts 21:26 , Acts 21:24 :18). But we need not infer that, because the outward cleansing is the dominant idea in these passages, it is therefore the only one. Here, James 4:8 , and 1 Peter 2:22 , the inward purification and dedication become the dominant idea, though perhaps not to the entire exclusion of the other.
‘Purifieth himself ’. See on 1:8 and 5:21. S. John once more boldly gives us an apparent contradiction, in order to bring out a real truth. In 1:7 it is ‘the blood of Jesus’ which ‘cleanseth us from all sin:’ here the Christian ‘purifieth himself’. Both are true, and neither cleansing will avail to salvation without the other. Christ cannot save us if we withhold our efforts: we cannot save ourselves without His merits and grace.
even as he is pure ] As in v. 2, the ‘ even as’ brings out the reality of the comparison: similarly in John 17:11 , John 17:22 we have ‘that they may be one, even as we are’. It is not easy to determine with certainty whether ‘He’ means the Father or Christ. There is a change of pronoun in the Greek from ‘on Him’ ( ἐπʼ αὐτῷ ) to ‘He’ ( ἐκεῖνος ), and this favours, though it does not prove, a change of meaning. Probably throughout this Epistle ἐκεῖνος means Christ ( vv. 5, 7, 16, 2:6. 4:17). He who, relying on God, hopes to be like God hereafter, purifies himself now after the example of Christ. Christ conformed Himself to the Father, we do the like by conforming ourselves to Christ. This interpretation brings us once more in contact with Christ’s great prayer. ‘For their sakes I consecrate Myself, that they themselves may be consecrated in truth’ (John 17:19 ). Moreover, would S. John speak of God as ‘pure’? God is ‘holy’ ( ἅγιος ): Christ in His perfect sinlessness as man is ‘pure’ ( ἁγνός ). Note that S. John does not say ‘even as He purified Himself:’ that grace which the Christian has to seek diligently is the inherent attribute of Christ. The consecration of Christ for the work of redemption is very different from the purification of the Christian in order to be like Him and the Father. Comp. Hebrews 12:14 .
4. As so often, the Apostle emphasizes his statement by giving the opposite case, and not the simple opposite, but an expansion of it. Instead of saying ‘every one that hath not this hope’ he says every one that doeth sin . The A. V. not only obscures this antithesis by changing ‘every man’ to ‘whosoever’, but also the contrast between ‘doing righteousness’ (2:29) and ‘doing sin’ by changing from ‘do’ to ‘commit’. This contrast is all the more marked in the Greek because both words have the article; ‘doeth the righteousness’, ‘doeth the sin’.
transgresseth also the law ] This is very unfortunate, destroying the parallelism: Every man that doeth sin , doeth also lawlessness . It is imperative to have the same verb in both clauses and also in 2:29: to do sin is to do lawlessness, and this is the opposite of to do righteousness. The one marks the children of God, the other the children of the devil. ‘Lawlessness’ both in English and Greek ( ἀνομία ) means not the privation of law, but the disregard of it: not the having no law, but the acting as if one had none. This was precisely the case with some of the Gnostic teachers: they declared that their superior enlightenment placed them above the moral law; they were neither the better for keeping it nor the worse for breaking it. Sin and lawlessness, says the Apostle, are convertible terms: they are merely different aspects of the same state. And it is in its aspect of disregard of God’s law that sin is seen to be quite irreconcilable with being a child of God and having fellowship with God. See on 5:17.
Note that throughout these verses (3 15) S. John uses the strong expression, ‘ Every man that’ and not simply ‘He that.’ It has been suggested that “in each case where this characteristic form of language occurs there is apparently a reference to some who had questioned the application of a general principle in particular cases” (Westcott): comp. 2:23, 29, 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18; 2 John 1:9 .
5. That sin is incompatible with Divine birth is still further enforced by two facts respecting the highest instance of Divine birth. The Son of God (1) entered the world of sense to put away all sin, (2) was Himself absolutely free from sin.
ye know ] The Apostle once more (2:21, 3:2) appeals to the knowledge which as Christians they must possess.
that he was manifested ] See on 2:28: the rendering here should govern the rendering there and in v. 2. Here, as in v. 8 and 1:2, the manifestation of the Word in becoming visible to human eyes is meant; the Incarnation. The expression necessarily implies that He existed previous to being made manifest.
to take away our sins ] Literally, to take away the sins , i.e. all the sins that there are. If ‘our sins’ means ‘the sins of us men’ and not ‘the sins of us Christians’, the rendering is admissible, even if the addition ‘of us’ ( א C Thebaic) is not genuine. As already stated, the article is often used in Greek where in English we use a possessive pronoun. ‘To take away’ ( αἴρειν ) is the safest rendering; for this is all that the Greek word necessarily means (see on John 1:29 ). Yet it is not improbable that the meaning of ‘to bear’ is included: He took the sins away by bearing them Himself (1 Peter 2:24 ). This, however, is not S. John’s point. His argument is that the Son’s having become incarnate in order to abolish sin shews that sin is inconsistent with sonship: the way in which He abolished it is not in question.
in him is no sin ] This is an independent proposition and must not be connected with ‘ye know that’. The order of the Greek is impressive; sin in Him does not exist . Christ not merely was on earth, but is in heaven, the eternally sinless One. He is the perfect pattern of what a son of God should be. This, therefore, is yet another proof that sin and sonship are incompatible. Comp. John 7:18 .
6. Whosoever abideth ] Better, Every one that abideth: we have the same Greek form of expression here as in 2:23, 29, 3:3, 4, 9, 10, 15. 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18, and it is better to mark this in translation.
sinneth not ] The Christian sometimes sins (1:8 10). The Christian abides in Christ (2:27). He who abides in Christ does not sin (3:6). By these apparently contradictory statements put forth one after another S. John expresses that internal contradiction of which every one who is endeavouring to do right is conscious. What S. John delivers as a series of aphorisms, which mutually qualify and explain one another, S. Paul puts forth dialectically as an argument. ‘If what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me’ (Romans 7:20 ). And on the other hand, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20 ).
whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him ] Or, every one that sinneth, hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him . The second verb is the perfect of the commonest verb in Greek for ‘to see’ ( ὁρᾷν ), a verb of which S. John uses no tense but the perfect. The third verb, though perfect in form, is present in meaning, ‘I have come to know, I know’ (see on 2:3). No one who sins has seen Christ or attained to a knowledge of Him. What does S. John mean by this strong statement? It will be observed that it is the antithesis of the preceding statement; but, as usual, instead of giving us the simple antithesis, ‘Every one that sinneth abideth not in Him’, he expands and strengthens it into ‘Every one that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither come to know Him’. S. John does not say this of every one who commits a sin, but of the habitual sinner (present participle). Although the believer sometimes sins, yet not sin, but opposition to sin, is the ruling principle of his life; for whenever he sins he confesses it, and wins forgiveness, and perseveres with his self-purification.
But the habitual sinner does none of these things: sin is his ruling principle. And this could not be the case if he had ever really known Christ. Just as apostates by leaving the Church prove that they have never really belonged to it (2:19), so the sinner by continuing in sin proves that he has never really known Christ. Seeing and knowing are not two names for the same fact: to see Christ is to be spiritually conscious of His presence; to know Him is to recognise His character and His relation to ourselves. For a collection of varying interpretations of this passage see Farrar’s Early Days of Christianity , II. p. 434, note.
7. Little children ] From the point of view of the present section, viz. the Divine parentage, the Apostle again warns his readers against the ruinous doctrine that religion and conduct can be separated, that to the spiritual man all conduct is alike. The renewed address, ‘Little children’, adds solemnity and tenderness to the warning.
let no man deceive you ] Better, as R. V., let no man lead you astray : see on 1:8. The word implies seduction into error of a grave kind.
he that doeth righteousness ] As in v. 6, we have the present participle; he who habitually does righteousness, not merely one who does a righteous act. If faith without works is dead (James 2:17 , James 2:20 ), much more is knowledge without works dead. There is only one way of proving our enlightenment, of proving our parentage from Him who is Light; and that is by doing the righteousness which is characteristic of Him and His Son. This is the sure test, the test which Gnostic self-exaltation pretended to despise. Anyone can say that he possesses a superior knowledge of Divine truth; but does he act accordingly? Does he do divine things?
even as he is righteous ] As in v. 3, we are in doubt whether ‘He’ means the Father or Christ. It is the same pronoun ( ἐκεῖνος ) as in v. 3, but there is not here any abrupt change of pronoun. Here also it seems better to interpret ‘He’ as Christ (2:2), rather than God (1:9).
8. He that committeth sin ] Better, as in v. 4, in order to bring out the full antithesis, He that doeth sin . ‘To do sin’ is the exact opposite of ‘to do righteousness’: as before, both substantives have the article in the Greek: see on v. 4. And, as before, the present participle indicates the habitual doer of sin. Such an one has the devil as the source ( ἐκ ), not of his existence, but of the evil which rules his existence and is the main element in it. “The devil made no man, begat no man, created no man: but whoso imitates the devil, becomes a child of the devil, as if begotten of him. In what sense art thou a child of Abraham? Not that Abraham begat thee. In the same sense as that in which the Jews, the children of Abraham, by not imitating the faith of Abraham, are become children of the devil” (S. Augustine). It is one of the characteristics of these closing words of N. T. that they mark with singular precision the personality of Satan, and his relation to sin, sinners, and redemption from sin.
for the devil sinneth from the beginning ] Or, because from the beginning the devil sinneth . ‘From the beginning’ stands first for emphasis. What does it mean? Various explanations have been suggested. (1) From the beginning of sin . The devil was the first to sin and has never ceased to sin. (2) From the beginning of the devil . This comes very near to asserting the Gnostic and Manichaean error of two co-eternal principles or Creators, one good and one evil. The very notion of sin involves departure from what is good. The good therefore must have existed first. To avoid this, (3) from the beginning of the devil as such , i.e. from the time of his becoming the devil, or (4) from the beginning of his activity; which is not very different from (3) if one believes that he is a fallen angel, or from (2) if one does not. (5) From the beginning of the world . (6) From the beginning of the human race . The first or last seems best. “The phrase ‘From the beginning’ intimates that there has been no period of the existence of human beings in which they have not been liable to the assaults of this Tempter; that accusations against God, reasons for doubting and distrusting Him, have been offered to one man after another, to one generation after another. This is just what the Scripture affirms; just the assumption which goes through the book from Genesis to the Apocalypse.” (Maurice.) Note the present tense: not he has sinned, but he is sinning; his whole existence is sin.
the Son of God ] In special contrast to those habitual sinners who are morally the children of the devil.
that he might destroy ] Literally, that he might unloose or dissolve or undo . All destruction is dissolution. The metaphor here has probably nothing to do with loosening bonds or snares. It is a favourite one with S. John; ‘ Destroy this sanctuary’ (John 2:19 ). Comp. 5:18, 7:23, 10:35, where either notion, loosening or dissolving, is appropriate.
the works of the devil ] The sins ( v. 5) which he causes men to commit. Christ came to undo the sins of men.
9. This is the opposite of v. 8, as v. 8 of v. 7; but, as usual, not the plain opposite, but something deduced from it, is stated.
Whosoever is born of God ] Or, Every one that (see on v. 6) is begotten of God . Note the perfect tense; ‘every one that has been made and that remains a child of God’. The expression is very frequent throughout the Epistle (2:29, 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18) and the rendering should be uniform; all the more so, because the phrase is characteristic. The A. V. wavers between ‘born’ and ‘begotten’, even in the same verse (5:1, 18). The R. V. rightly prefers ‘begotten’ throughout: ‘born’ throughout is impossible, for in 5:1 we have the active, ‘begat’. The expression ‘to be begotten of God’ is found only in S. John; once in the Gospel (1:13) and eight or nine times in the Epistle: comp. John 3:3 , John 3:5 , John 3:6 , John 3:7 , John 3:8 .
doth not commit sin ] Better, as R. V., doeth no sin (see on v. 4): the opposition between ‘doing sin’ and ‘doing righteousness’ must be carefully marked. This strong statement is exactly parallel to v. 6 and is to be understood in a similar sense. It is literally true of the Divine nature imparted to the believer. That does not sin and cannot sin. A child of the God who is Light can have nothing to do with sin which is darkness: the two are morally incompatible.
for his seed remaineth in him ] Better, as R. V., because his seed abideth in him: see on 2:24. This may mean either (1) ‘His seed’, the new birth given by God , ‘abideth in him’; or (2) ‘his seed’, the new birth received by him , ‘abideth in him’; or (3) ‘His seed’, God’s child , ‘abideth in Him ’. The first is probably right. The third is possible, but improbable: ‘seed’ is sometimes used for ‘child’ or ‘descendant’; but would not S. John have written ‘child’ as in vv. 1, 2, 10, 5:2? To resort to the parable of the sower for an explanation, and to interpret ‘seed’ as ‘the word of God’ is scarcely legitimate. The whole analogy refers to human generation, not to the germination of plants; but comp. 3 John 1:5-8 would lead us to interpret seed as meaning the Holy Spirit.
he cannot sin ] It is a moral impossibility for a child of God to sin. It is because of the imperfection of our sonship that sin is possible, an imperfection to be remedied and gradually reduced by the blood of Jesus (1:7) and self-purification (3:3). ‘Cannot’ of what is morally impossible is frequent in S. John’s Gospel (5:30, 6:44, 65, 7:7, 8:43, 12:39, 14:17); comp. 4:20.
10. In this ] These words, like ‘for this cause’ ( v. 1) refer to what precedes rather than to what follows: but here what follows is similar to what precedes, so that in any case ‘in this’ means ‘by doing or not doing righteousness’.
are manifest ] A man’s principles are invisible, but their results are visible: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20 ).
the children of the devil ] The expression occurs nowhere else in N. T., but we have ‘son of the devil,’ Acts 13:10 : comp. ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3 ), and ‘ye are of your father the devil’ (John 8:44 ). All mankind are God’s children by creation: as regards this a creature can have no choice. But a creature endowed with free will can choose his own parent in the moral world. The Father offers him the ‘right to become a child of God’ (John 1:12 ); but he can refuse this and become a child of the devil instead. There is no third alternative.
It was for pressing the doctrine that a tree is known by its fruits to an extreme, and maintaining that a world in which evil exists cannot be the work of a good God, that the heretic Marcion was rebuked by S. John’s disciple Polycarp, in words which read like an adaptation of this text, “I know thee for the firstborn of Satan ” (Iren. Haer. III. iii. 4). And in his Epistle (VII. 1) Polycarp writes, “Whosoever does not confess the witness of the cross is of the devil ”.
neither he that loveth not his brother ] Here again note the way in which S. John’s divisions shade off into one another (see on 2:28, 29). Doing righteousness, the mark of God’s children, suggests the thought of brotherly love, for love is righteousness in relation to others; ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Galatians 5:14 ). Love suggests its opposite, hate; and these two form the subject of the next paragraph. Some editors would make the new section begin here in the middle of v. 10. It is perhaps better to draw the line between vv. 12 and 13, considering vv. 11 and 12 as transitional.
‘He that loveth not his brother is not of God’, for a child of God will love all whom God loves. This prepares us for the statements in 4:7, 20, 21.
11. For this is the message that ye heard, &c. ] Or, Because the message which ye heard from the beginning is this : ‘this’ is probably the predicate (see on 1:5). ‘From the beginning’ as in 2:7: it was one of the very first things conveyed to them in their instruction in Christianity and had been ceaselessly repeated, notably by the Apostle himself. Jerome tells us that during S. John’s last years ‘Little children, love one another’ was the one exhortation which, after he had become too old to preach, he never ceased to give. “It is the Lord’s command,” he said; “and if this is done, it is enough.” ‘Love one another’ addressed to Christians must primarily mean the love of Christians to fellow-Christians; and this shews what ‘loving his brother’ must mean. But the love of Christians to non-Christians must certainly not be excluded: the arguments for enforcing brotherly love cover the case of love to all mankind.
12. A brother’s love suggests its opposite, a brother’s hate, and that in the typical instance of it, the fratricide Cain.
Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one ] Better, as R.V., Not as Cain was of the evil one: there is no ‘who’ in the Greek, nor any pronoun before ‘the evil one.’ Here as in John 1:21 , John 1:25 , John 1:6 :14, John 1:48 , 69, John 1:7 :40, the definite article has been turned into a demonstrative pronoun in A. V. See on 1:2. In ‘from the beginning’ ( v. 8) S. John has gone back to the earliest point in the history of sin. The instance of Cain shewed how very soon sin took the form of hate, and fratricidal hate. It is better not to supply any verb with ‘not’: although the sentence is grammatically incomplete, it is quite intelligible. ‘We are not, and ought not to be, of the evil one, as Cain was.’ Commentators quote the “strange Rabbinical view” that while Abel was the son of Adam, Cain was the son of the tempter. Of course S. John is not thinking of such wild imaginations: Cain is only morally ‘of the evil one’. Here, as elsewhere in the Epistle (2:13, 14, 5:18, 19), S. John uses ‘the evil one’ as a term with which his readers are quite familiar. He gives no explanation.
and slew his brother ] This was evidence of his devilish nature. The word for ‘slay’ ( σφάζειν ) is a link between this Epistle and Revelation (6:4, &c.; see below), occurring nowhere else in N. T. Its original meaning was ‘to cut the throat’ ( σφαγή ), especially of a victim for sacrifice. In later Greek it means simply to slay, especially with violence. But perhaps something of the notion of slaying a victim clings to it here, as in most passages in Revelation (5:6, 9, 12, 6:9, 13:3, 8, 18:24).
And wherefore slew he him? ] S. John puts this question to bring out still more strongly the diabolical nature of the act and the agent. Was Abel at all to blame? On the contrary, it was his righteousness which excited the murderous hate of Cain. Cain was jealous of the acceptance which Abel’s righteous offering found, and which his own evil offering did not find: and ‘who is able to stand before envy?’ (Proverbs 27:4 ). Cain’s offering was evil, (1) because it ‘cost him nothing’ (2 Samuel 24:24 ); (2) because of the spirit in which it was offered.
and his brother’s righteous ] The last mention of the subject of righteousness with which this section opened (2:29; comp. 3:7, 10). Neither ‘righteousness’ nor ‘righteous’ occur again in the Epistle; righteousness being merged in the warmer and more definite aspect of it, love. This is a reason for including from 2:29 to 3:12 in one section, treating of the righteousness of the children of God. Comp. ‘By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous ’ (Hebrews 11:4 ).
13 24. Love and Hate: Life and Death
Marvel not, my brethren ] Comp. John 5:28 , John 3:7 . The antagonism between the light and the darkness, between God and the evil one, between righteousness and unrighteousness, has never ceased from the time of the first sin ( v. 8) and of the first murder ( v. 12). The moral descendants of Cain and of Abel are still in the world, and the wicked still hate the righteous. Therefore Christians need not be perplexed, if the world (as it does) hates them .
Both in Jewish (Philo, De sacr. Abelis et Caini ) and in early Christian ( Clem. Hom. III. xxv., xxvi) literature Abel is taken as the prototype of the good and Cain as the prototype of the wicked. For the wild sect of the Cainites, who took exactly the opposite view , see Appendix C. It is possible that some germs of this monstrous heresy are aimed at in v. 12.
brethren ] This form of address, which occurs nowhere else in the Epistle (not genuine in 2:7), is in harmony with the subject of brotherly love.
if the world hate you ] Better, as R. V., if the world hateth you: in the Greek we have the indicative, not the subjunctive or optative. The fact is stated gently, but not doubtfully. The verse is another echo of Christ’s last discourses as recorded in the Gospel: ‘ If the world hateth you (same construction as here), ye know that it hath hated Me before it hated you’ (John 15:18 ). Comp. Mark 15:44 .
14. Love means life and hate means death.
We know ] The pronoun is very emphatic: ‘the dark world which is full of devilish hate may think and do what it pleases about us; we know that we have left the atmosphere of death for one of life.’ This knowledge is part of our consciousness ( οἴδαμεν ) as Christians: comp. 2:20, 21; 3:2, 5. Cain hated and slew his brother: the world hates and would slay us. But for all that, it was Cain who passed from life into death, while his brother passed to eternal life, and through his sacrifice ‘he being dead yet speaketh’ (Hebrews 11:4 ). The same is the case between the world and Christians. Philo in a similar spirit points out that Cain really slew, not his brother, but himself.
have passed from death unto life ] Better, have passed over out of death into life , have left an abode in the one region for an abode in the other: another reminiscence of the Gospel (John 5:24 ). The Greek perfect here has the common meaning of permanent result of past action: ‘we have passed into a new home and abide there .’ The metaphor is perhaps taken from the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:16 ), or of the Jordan.
because we love the brethren ] This depends on ‘we know,’ not on ‘we have passed’: our love is the infallible sign that we have made the passage. The natural state of man is selfishness, which involves enmity to others, whose claims clash with those of self: to love others is proof that this natural state has been left. Life and love are two aspects of the same fact in the moral world, as life and growth in the physical: the one marks the state, the other the activity.
He that loveth not his brother ] Omit ‘his brother’, which, though correct as an interpretation, is no part of the true text. Wiclif and the Rhemish, following the Vulgate, omit the addition.
abideth in death ] Which implies that death is the original condition of all. The believer passes out of this by becoming a child of God and thereby of necessity loving God’s other children. He who does not love them shews that he is still in the old state of death.
15. Whosoever hateth his brother ] Or, Every one that hateth his brother : see on v. 4. Quite as a matter of course S. John passes from not loving to hating. The crisis caused in the world by the coming of the light leaves no neutral ground: all is either light or darkness, of God or of the evil one, of the Church or of the world, in love or in hate. A Christian cannot be neither loving nor hating, any more than a plant can be neither growing nor dying.
is a murderer ] Or, as most of the earlier Versions, is a manslayer . The word ( ἀνθρωποκτόνος ) occurs only here and John 8:44 . The mention of Cain just before renders it certain that ‘murderer’ is not to be understood figuratively as ‘ soul -destroyer’. Human law considers overt acts; God considers motives. The motives of the hater and of the murderer are the same: the fact that one is, and the other is not, deterred by laziness or fear from carrying out his hatred into homicidal action, makes no difference in the moral character of the men, though it makes all the difference in the eyes of the law. This is only applying to the sixth commandment the principle which the Lord Himself applies to the seventh (Matthew 5:28 ).
ye know that no murderer ] Once more ( v. 14) the Apostle appeals to their consciousness as Christians ( οἴδατε ): it is not a matter of experience gradually acquired ( γινώσκετε ), but of knowledge once for all possessed. He who is a murderer at heart cannot along with the deadly spirit which he cherishes have eternal life as a sure possession. Comp. ‘Ye have not His word abiding in you,’ John 5:38 . S. John of course does not mean that hatred or murder is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. But ‘the soul that sinneth, it shall die ’; and the sin of which the special tendency is destruction of life is absolutely incompatible with the possession of eternal life. ‘But for … murderers … their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death’ (Revelation 21:8 ). Here, as elsewhere, S. John speaks of eternal life as something which the Christian already has , not which he hopes to win : comp. 5:13; John 3:36 , John 3:5 :24, John 3:6 :47, 54, &c. Eternal life has nothing to do with time, and is neither lost nor gained by physical death: see on John 11:25 . The form of expression in this verse is similar to 2:19, being literally, every murderer hath not , instead of ‘no murderer hath’.
16. Hereby perceive we the love of God ] Better, Herein know we love: see on 2:3. The Greek is literally, ‘we have perceived,’ and therefore we know , as R. V., and there is no ‘of God’. The A. V. here collects the errors of other Versions: Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘perceave’, Wiclif and the Rhemish insert ‘of God’; the Genevan is right on both points, ‘Herby have we perceaved love.’ We have obtained the knowledge of what love is, in the concrete example of Christ’s vicarious death. Christ is the archetype of self-sacrificing love, as Cain is of brother-sacrificing hate. Love and hate are known by their works.
because he laid down his life ] For ‘herein’ followed by ‘because’ see on 2:3. ‘To lay down’ may mean either ‘to pay down’ in the way of ransom or propitiation, or simply ‘to lay aside .’ Classical usage sanctions the former interpretation: Demosthenes uses the verb ( τίθεσθαι ) of paying interest, tribute, taxes. And this is supported by ‘for us’ ( ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ), i.e. ‘on our behalf’. But ‘I lay down My life that I may take it again ’ (John 10:17 , John 10:18 ), and ‘layeth aside His garments’ (13:4; comp. 13:12), are in favour of the latter: they are quite against the rendering ‘He pledged His life’. The phrase ‘to lay down one’s life’ is peculiar to S. John (10:11, 15, 17, 13:37, 38, 15:13). In Greek the pronoun ( ἐκεῖνος as in 2:6 and 3:7) marks more plainly than in English who laid down His life: but S. John’s readers had no need to be told.
and we ought ] The ‘we’ is emphatic: this on our side is a Christian’s duty; he ‘ought himself also to walk even as He walked’ (2:6). The argument seems to shew that though ‘the brethren’ specially means believers, yet heathen are not to be excluded. Christ laid down His life not for Christians only, ‘but also for the whole world ’ (2:2). Christians must imitate Him in this: their love must be (1) practical, (2) absolutely self-sacrificing, (3) all-embracing. ‘God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners , Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8 ). Tertullian quotes this dictum of the Apostle in urging the duty of martyrdom: “If he teaches that we must die for the brethren, how much more for the Lord” ( Scorp. xii.). Comp. Proverbs 24:11 . See on 4:18.
17. But whoso hath this world’s good ] Better, as R. V., But whoso hath the world’s goods . The ‘But’ is full of meaning. ‘But not many of us are ever called upon to die for another: smaller sacrifices, however, may be demanded of us; and what if we fail to make them?’ The word for ‘good’ or ‘goods’ ( βίος ) is the same as that rendered ‘life’ in 2:16, where see note. It signifies there and here ‘means of life, subsistence’. ‘The world’s life’, therefore, means that which supports the life of mankind, or life in this world (see on 2:15) in marked contrast to eternal life ( v. 15).
and seeth his brother have need ] Better, and beholdeth his brother having need . The verb implies that he not only sees him ( ἰδεῖν ), but looks at him and considers him ( θεωρεῖν ). It is a word of which the contemplative Apostle is very fond; and outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts it occurs nowhere but in S. John’s writings and Hebrews 7:4 . It is a pity to spoil the irony of the original by weakening ‘ having need’ into ‘ in need’ (R. V.). The one has as his possession the world’s wealth , the other has as his possession need .
shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him ] There is no ‘of compassion’ in the Greek and we hardly need both substantives. The ancients believed the bowels to be the seat of the affections (Genesis 43:30 ; 1 Kings 3:26 ; Jeremiah 31:20 ; Philippians 1:8 , Philippians 1:2 :1; Philemon 1:7 , Philemon 1:12 , Philemon 1:20 ) as well as the heart, whereas we take the latter only. Coverdale (here, as often, following Luther) alters Tyndale’s ‘shutteth up his compassion’ into ‘shutteth up his heart.’ And in fact, ‘shutteth up his bowels from him’ is the same as ‘closeth his heart against him.’ The phrase occurs nowhere else in N. T., but comp. 2 Corinthians 6:12 . The ‘ from him’ is picturesque, as in 2:28: it expresses the moving away and turning his back on his brother. In LXX. ‘Thou shalt not harden thine heart’ (Deuteronomy 15:7 ) is ‘Thou shalt not turn away thine heart’.
how dwelleth the love of God in him? ] Better, as R. V., how doth the love of God abide in him? this preserves the order of the Greek better and marks the recurrence of S. John’s favourite verb ‘abide’ (see on 2:24). ‘The love of God’, as usual in this Epistle (see on 2:5), means man’s love to God. The question here is equivalent to the statement in 4:20, that to love God and hate one’s brother is impossible.
18. My little children, let us not love in word ] S. John, as in 2:28, 3:13, 4:1, 7, hastens on to a practical application of what he has been stating as the principles of Christian Ethics; and in each case he prefaces his gentle exhortation with a word of tender address. ‘Dear children, do not think that I am giving you a series of philosophical truisms; I am telling of the principles which must govern your conduct and mine, if we are children of the God who is Light and Love.’
let us not love in word, neither in tongue ] Or, as R. V., neither with the tongue . This is more accurate, for in the Greek ‘word’ has no article and ‘tongue’ has: both are datives of the instrument, and the article marks the tongue as the special instrument of the hypocritical love. Is there any difference between loving in word and loving with the tongue? And is there any difference between loving in deed and loving in truth? The answer must be the same to both questions. The oppositions between ‘word’ and ‘deed’ and between ‘tongue’ and ‘truth’ are so exact as to lead us to believe that there is a difference. To love in word is to have that affection which is genuine as far as it goes, but which is so weak that it never gets further than affectionate words: such love is opposed, not to truth, but to loving acts . To love with the tongue is to profess an affection which one does not feel, which is sheer hypocrisy: it is opposed, not to deeds, but to truth . It may shew itself also in hypocritical acts, done (as Bede points out) not with the wish to do good, but to win praise, or to injure others.
in deed and in truth ] Omit the second ‘in’: the preposition is not repeated in the Greek. Tyndale and the Rhemish Version have no second ‘in’. Comp. James 2:15 ; Romans 12:9 . What follows, though intimately connected with the first part of the section (see next note), almost amounts to a fresh departure. The subject of love and its opposite is transformed into the security and serenity of conscience which genuine and active love is able to produce .
19. And hereby we know ] Rather, Herein we shall know: the ‘and’, though well supported, is probably not genuine, and the evidence for the future as against the present is overwhelming. ‘Herein’ ( ἐν τούτῳ ) sometimes refers to what follows ( v. 16, 4:2, 9), sometimes to what precedes (2:5). Here the latter is the case: by loving in deed and truth we shall arrive at the knowledge that we are morally the children of the Truth. ‘The Truth’ here is almost equivalent to ‘God’. ‘To be of the Truth’ is to have the Truth as the source whence the guiding and formative influences of thought and conduct flow: comp. 2:21; John 3:31 , John 8:47 , and especially 18:37. The preposition ‘of’ here = ‘out of’ ( ἐκ ), and the notion of origin must not be lost sight of any more than in 2:16, 19, 21, 3:8, 10, 12, 4:1, 2, 3, &c.
The construction and punctuation of what follows is doubtful; also the reading in the first and second clauses of v. 20. Certainty is not attainable, and to give all possible variations of reading and rendering would take up too much space. The conclusions adopted here are given as good and tenable, but not as demonstrably right.
and shall assure our hearts ] Literally, and shall persuade our hearts . Is this clause coordinate with ‘we shall know’, or dependent upon it (‘we shall know that we shall assure’)? Probably the former. The meaning is, ‘Herein we shall know that we are of the truth, and herein we shall persuade our heart.’ Authorities are much divided between ‘heart’ (B, Peschito, Thebaic) and ‘hearts’ ( א CKL); the former seems preferable. S. John elsewhere always uses the singular both in Gospel and Epistle: it “fixes the thought upon the personal trial in each case” (Westcott). In any case it obviously means, not the affections (2 Corinthians 7:3 ; Philippians 1:7 ), but the conscience (Acts 2:37 , Acts 7:54 ). It is worth noting that the Greek word ( καρδία ) is cognate with the English ‘heart.’ The substitution of ‘assure’ for ‘persuade’ appears to be somewhat violent, for it is a meaning which the verb ( πείθειν ) does not in itself possess. But if the context justifies the substitution, because the meaning plainly is ‘persuade our heart that it need not condemn us ’, then the context may speak for itself in the English, as in the Greek. Comp. ‘We will persuade him and rid you of care’ (Matthew 28:14 ); and ‘having made Blastus their friend’, literally ‘having persuaded Blastus’ (Acts 12:20 ).
before him ] This is placed first for emphasis in the Greek; and before Him shall assure our hearts . The important thing is that we can quiet our consciences in the sight of God . The self-deceiver, who is not ‘of the Truth’, but ‘walks in darkness’ hating his brother (2:1), can quiet his heart, ‘because the darkness hath blinded his eyes’: but this is not done ‘before God’.
20. For if our heart condemn us ] It is possible to attach this to the preceding verse (reading ὅ τι ἐάν , a construction found Acts 3:23 and Galatians 5:10 , and perhaps Colossians 3:17 , for ὅτι ἐάν ), and to render with R. V., whereinsoever our heart condemn us : but see next note. “A Christian’s heart burdened with a sense of its own unworthiness forms an unfavourable opinion of the state of the soul, pronounces against its salvation. If we are conscious of practically loving the brethren, we can adduce this as evidence of the contrary, and give the heart ground to change its opinion, and to reassure itself. Anyone who has had experience of the doubts and fears which spring up in a believer’s heart from time to time, of whether he is or is not in a state of condemnation, will feel the need and the efficacy of this test of faith and means of assurance” (Jelf).
God is greater than our heart ] On overwhelming evidence ( א BCKL) we must insert ‘because’ or ‘that’ ( ὅτι ) before ‘God is greater’. If the reading and rendering of the preceding clause adopted in R. V. is right, ‘ because God is greater’ will make good sense. Because God is superior to our consciences in being omniscient, we may (when our love is sincere and fruitful), persuade our consciences before Him to acquit us. Our consciences through imperfect knowledge may be either too strict or too easy with us: God cannot be either, for He knows and weighs all.
But it seems almost certain that ‘if our heart condemn us’ must be right, as the natural correlative of ‘if our heart condemn us not’, which is indisputably right. This progress by means of opposites stated side by side has been S. John’s method all through: ‘if we confess our sins’ and ‘if we say that we have not sinned’ (1:9, 10); ‘he that loveth his brother’ and ‘he that hateth his brother’ (2:10, 11); ‘he that doeth righteousness’ and ‘he that doeth sin’ (3:7, 8); ‘every spirit that confesseth’ and ‘every spirit that confesseth not’ (4:2, 3). But, if this is accepted, what is to be done with the apparently redundant’ because’ or ‘that’? Two plans are suggested: 1. to supply ‘it is’ before because’; 2. to supply ‘it is plain’ ( δῆλον ) before ‘that’. The latter seems preferable: for what can be the meaning of ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is) because God is greater than our heart’? Whereas, ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is plain) that God is greater than our heart’ makes excellent sense. There is perhaps a similar ellipse of ‘it is plain’ ( ὅτι = δῆλον ὅτι ) 1 Timothy 6:7 ; ‘We brought nothing into the world, and (it is plain) that we can carry nothing out.’ And other instances are quoted from S. Chrysostom (X. p. 38 BD; p. 122 B, where some editors insert δῆλον ).
We must not give ‘God is greater’ a one-sided interpretation, either ‘God is more merciful’ or ‘God is more strict’. It means that He is a more perfect judge than our heart can be. It is the difference between conscience and Omniscience.
and knoweth all things ] The ‘and’ is epexegetic; it explains the special character of God’s superiority when the soul stands before the judgment-seat of conscience. He knows all things; on the one hand the light and grace against which we have sinned, on the other the reality of our repentance and our love . It was to this infallible omniscience that S. Peter appealed, in humble distrust of his own feeling and judgment; ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee’ (John 21:17 ). It is the reality and activity of our love ( vv. 18, 19) which gives us assurance under the accusations of conscience. Comp. ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses’, having genuine love for them, ‘your heavenly Father will also forgive you’, and ye will be able to persuade your hearts before Him (Matthew 6:14 ).
The force of vv. 19, 20 may be thus summed up: ‘By loving our brethren in deed and truth we come to know that we are God’s children and have His presence within us, and are enabled to meet the disquieting charges of conscience. For, if conscience condemns us, its verdict is neither infallible nor final. We may still appeal to the omniscient God, whose love implanted within us is a sign that we are not condemned and rejected by Him.’
21. Beloved ] See on v. 2.
if our heart condemn us not ] An argument à fortiori : if before God we can persuade conscience to acquit us, when it upbraids us, much more may we have assurance before Him, when it does not do so. It is not quite evident whether ‘condemn us not’ means ‘ ceases to condemn us’, because we have persuaded it, or ‘does not condemn us from the first ’, because it has had no misgivings about us. Either makes good sense. The same word for ‘condemn’ occurs Galatians 2:11 of S. Peter’s dissimulation at Antioch: ‘I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned ’, and in Ecclus. 14:2, ‘Blessed is he whose conscience hath not condemned him’ ( οὐ κατέγνω ).
then have we confidence towards God ] ‘Then’, which is not in the Greek, may be omitted; we have boldness (see on 2:28) toward God (5:14). We approach to Him as children to a Father and not as criminals to a Judge. This is not the same as ‘persuading our heart’ ( v. 19), but may be the result of it. Compare ‘to have peace toward God ’ (Romans 5:1 ), i.e. in our relations to Him: both A. V. and R. V. render ‘have peace with God’, but the Greek is the same as here ( πρὸς τὸν Θεόν ).
22. This verse is so closely connected with the preceding one, that not more than a comma or semicolon should be placed between them. When a good conscience gives us boldness towards God our prayers are granted, for children in such relations to their heavenly Father cannot ask anything which He will refuse.
And whatsoever we ask ] The ‘and’ is probably epexegetic, as in v. 20, and explains the special character of our boldness. See on v. 15.
we receive of him ] The present is to be taken quite literally; not as the present for the future. It may be a long time before we see the results of our prayer; but it is granted at once. As S. Augustine says, ‘He who gave us love cannot close His ears against the groans and prayers of love’.
because we keep his commandment ] This should certainly be plural, commandments : previous English Versions have the plural, and there seems to be no trace of a various reading, so that one suspects a misprint in the edition of 1611. ‘Because’ depends upon ‘receive’, not upon ‘have boldness’: we receive because we are loyal. This is in harmony with the Gospel and with Scripture generally: ‘We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do His will, him He heareth ’ (John 9:31 ); ‘The Lord is far from the wicked, but He heareth the prayer of the righteous’ (Proverbs 15:29 ; comp. Psalms 66:18 , Psalms 66:19 ; Job 27:8 , Job 27:9 ; Isaiah 1:11-15 ). For ‘keep His commandments’ see on 2:3.
do those things which are pleasing in his sight ] Not the same as ‘keeping His commandments’: the one is obedience , which may be slavish, the other is love . We seem here to have another reminiscence of the Gospel (8:29): ‘Because the things pleasing to Him I always do’. Excepting Acts 6:2 , Acts 12:3 , the word for ‘pleasing’ occurs nowhere else in N. T. Comp. Hebrews 13:21 ; 1 Timothy 2:3 .
23. And this is his commandment ] Or, And His commandment is this ; see on 1:5. Here the singular is right: the various commandments, especially the two here named, faith and love, are summed up as one whole. This verse is the answer to those who would argue from the preceding verses that all that is required of us is to do what is right; it does not much matter what we believe . Not so says the Apostle. In order to do what is right it is necessary to believe: this is the first step in our obedience to God’s commands.
that we should believe ] For ‘that’ ( ἵνα ) see on 1:9: here perhaps it merely “gives the nature and contents of the commandment, not the aim” (Jelf).
believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ ] More accurately, believe the Name of &c. It is not the precise phrase used 5:13, John 1:12 , John 2:23 , John 3:18 ( πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα ), a construction of which S. John is very fond, but a phrase which occurs nowhere else in N. T. ( πιστεύειν τῷ ὀνόματι ), a construction similar to that in 4:1, 5:10. The former is the stronger expression, marking the more permanent trust and repose; but in such a phrase as this there cannot be much difference between ‘believing’ and ‘believing on’. ‘To believe His Name’ means to believe all that His Name (here given with solemn fulness) signifies and implies; His Divinity, His Sonship, and His office as Mediator, Advocate and Saviour.
and love one another ] ‘Faith if it have not works is dead’ (James 2:17 ): hence the necessity for adding ‘and love one another’, which of course means love ‘in deed and truth’ ( v. 18). ‘And’ here is not epexegetic: it adds something fresh, giving active love as the necessary effect of living faith. ‘Love’ is in the present tense of what must be continual.
as he gave us commandment ] Or even as (to mark the difference between καθώς and ὡς ). ‘He gave’ refers to Christ, just mentioned; and this limits ‘commandment’ to ‘love one another’ (John 13:34 , John 13:15 :12, John 13:17 ): moreover love rather than faith is the subject of this portion of the Epistle. ‘To give commandment’ is a phrase which in N. T. is peculiar to S. John (11:57, 12:49, 13:34): it occurs in Demosthenes.
24. And he that keepeth his commandments ] This looks back to the same phrase in v. 22, not to the conclusion of v. 23, which is parenthetical. Therefore ‘His’ means God’s, not Christ’s.
dwelleth in him ] Better, abideth in Him : it is S. John’s favourite word, which occurs twice in this verse (see on 2:24). “Let God be a home to thee, and be thou a home of God” (Bede). This mutual abiding expresses union of the strongest and closest kind: comp. 4:13, 16; John 6:56 , John 6:15 :4, John 6:5 . S. John once more insists on what may be regarded as the main theme of this exposition of Christian Ethics; that conduct is not only not a matter of indifference, but is all-important. We may possess many kinds of enlightenment, intellectual and spiritual; but there is no union with God, and indeed no true knowledge of Him, without obedience : comp. 1:6, 2:4, 6, 29, 3:6, 7, 9. ‘He that willeth to do His will shall know’ (John 7:17 ).
and hereby ] Or, and herein , as in vv. 16, 19, 2:3, 5, 4:9, 10, 13, 17, 5:2. This probably refers to what follows; but the change of preposition in the Greek, a change obliterated in both A. V. and R. V., renders this not quite certain. S. John writes, not ‘here by we know … by the Spirit’ (which would place the connexion beyond a doubt), but ‘here in ( ἐν ) we know … from ( ἐκ ) the Spirit’.
we know ] Literally, we come to know ; it is a matter of Christian experience.
by the Spirit ] Better, from the Spirit : this is the source from which the knowledge is derived. This is the first mention of the Spirit in the Epistle, although He is alluded to in 2:20.
which he hath given us ] Or, which He gave us . The verb is aorist, not perfect; and though this is a case where the English perfect might represent the Greek aorist, yet as the Apostle probably refers to the definite occasion when the Spirit was given, the aorist seems better. This occasion in S. John’s case would be Pentecost, in that of his readers, their baptism. Thus in our Baptismal Service we are exhorted to pray that the child “may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost”; and in what follows we pray, “wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost”; and again, “give Thy Holy Spirit to this infant, that he may be born again”: after which follows the baptism.
It would be possible to translate ‘by the Spirit of which He has given us’, a partitive genitive, meaning ‘ some of which’ as in Macbeth , I. iii. 80,
“The earth hath bubbles as the water has,
And these are of them ”.
And in Bacon’s Essays, Of Atheisme , “You shall have of them , that will suffer for Atheisme, and not recant”. But the Greek genitive here is probably not partitive but the result of attraction. S. John commonly inserts a preposition ( ἐκ ) with the partitive genitive (2 John 1:4 ; John 1:24 , John 1:7 :40, John 1:16 :17; Revelation 2:10 , Revelation 2:11 :9; comp. John 21:10 ). Tyndale here translates ‘Therby we knowe that ther abydeth in us of the sprete which He gave us’, making ‘of the Spirit’ (= a portion of the Spirit) the nominative to ‘abideth’; which is grammatically possible, but scarcely in harmony with what precedes. The change from Tyndale’s rendering to the one adopted in A. V., and (with change of ‘hath given’ to ‘gave’) in R. V. also, is due to Coverdale.
Once more (see note between 2:28 and 29 and on 3:10) we are led to a fresh section almost without knowing it. In the last six verses of this chapter (19 24) the transition from verse to verse is perfectly smooth and natural; so also in the previous six verses (13 18). Nor is the transition from v. 18 to v. 19 at all violent or abrupt. By a very gradual movement we have been brought from the contrast between love and hate to the gift of the Spirit. And this prepares the way for a new subject; or rather for an old subject treated from a new point of view. Like the doublings of the Maeander near which he lived, the progress of the Apostle at times looks more like retrogression than advance: but the progress is unmistakable when the whole field is surveyed. Here we seem to be simply going back to the subject of the antichrists (2:18 28); but whereas there the opposition between the Holy Spirit in true believers and the lying spirit in the antichrists is only suggested (2:20, 22, 27), here it is the dominant idea.
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the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30