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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

1 John 3

Verse 1

1 John 3:1 . St. John has been speaking of the salvation which Jesus has brought His Propitiation and Advocacy, and he sees and would have his readers see in it an amazing expression of the love of God. Cf. John 3:16 . ποταπός ( ποδαπός ), properly cujas , “of what country,” though approximating in late Greek to ποῖος , qualis , “of what sort” ( cf. Moulton, Gram, of N.T. Gk. , i. p. 95), retains something of its proper and original signification. The love of God in Christ is foreign to this world: “from what far realm? what unearthly love?” Cf. Matthew 8:27 : “What unearthly personage?” 2 Peter 3:11 : “How other-worldly”. ἵνα , κ . τ . λ ., the purpose of this amazing gift; a wise, holy love, concerned for our highest good; not simply that we may be saved from suffering and loss but “in order that we may be styled ‘children of God’ ”. And we have not only the name but the character: “so we are”. Vulg. and Aug. give simus , as though reading ὦμεν for ἐσμὲν : “that we should be styled and be”. Cf. Aug.: “Nam qui vocantur et non sunt, quid illis prodest nomen ubi res non est? Quam multi vocantur medici, qui curare non norunt? quam multi vocantur vigiles, qui tota nocte dormiunt?” διὰ τοῦτο , not anticipative, of ὅτι , but retrospective: “for this reason,” viz. , because we are children of God. ὅτι explains the inference: “(and no wonder) because it did not recognise Him,” i.e. the Father as revealed in His Son ( cf. note on 1 John 2:29 ). We must accept what our high dignity as children of God involves in a world alienated from God. On ὁ κόσμος see note on 1 John 2:15 . Cf. Aug.: “Jam cum auditis mundum in mala significatione, non intelligatis nisi dilectores mundi.… Ambulabat et ipse Dominus Jesus Christus, in carne erat Deus, latebat in infirmitate. Et unde non est cognitus? Quia omnia peccata arguebat in hominibus. Illi amando delectationes peccatorum non agnoscebant Deum: amando quod febris suadebat, injuriam medico faciebant.”

Verses 1-3

1 John 3:1-3 . Our Present Dignity and Our Future Destiny. “See what unearthly love the Father hath given us, in order that we may be styled ‘children of God’; and so we are. It is for this reason that the world doth not recognise us, because it did not recognise Him. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it was not yet manifested what we shall be. We know that, if it be manifested, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him even as He is. And every one that hath this hope resting on Him purifieth himself even as the Lord is pure.”

Verse 2

1 John 3:2 . Having spoken of our present dignity, the Apostle goes on to speak of our future destiny. The Incarnation manifested our standing as children of God, but “it was not yet manifested what we shall be”. The aorist ἐφανερώθη ( cf. ἔγνω in previous verse) refers to the historic manifestation in Jesus Christ. The N.T. says nothing definite about the nature of our future glory. With our present faculties we cannot conceive it. It must be experienced to be understood. Jesus simply assures us of the felicity of the Father’s House, and bids us take His word for it ( cf. John 14:2 ). ἐὰν φανερωθῇ , “if ( cf. note on 1 John 2:28 ) it may be manifested,” taking up οὔπω ἐφανερώθη . This obvious connection is decisive against the rendering “if He shall be manifested” ( cf. 1 John 2:28 ; Colossians 3:4 ). ὅτι , κ . τ . λ .: What we shall be was not manifested, but this we know that we shall be like Him. And how do we know it? From His promise that “we shall see Him even as He is” ( cf. John 17:24 ). The argument is two-fold: (1) Vision of God implies likeness to Him in character and affection ( cf. Matthew 5:8 ); (2) the vision of God transfigures ( cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ), even in this life.

“Ah! the Master is so fair,

His smile so sweet to banished men,

That they who meet it unaware

Can never rest on earth again.”

And how will it be when we “see Him face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12 )? St. Augustine expresses much of the Apostle’s thought in a beautiful sentence: “Tota vita Christiani boni sanctum desiderium est”.

Verse 3

1 John 3:3 . The duty which our destiny imposes. ἐπʼ αὐτῷ , “resting on Him,” i.e. , on God as Father. Cf. Luke 5:5 : ἐπὶ τῷ ῥήματί σου , “relying on Thy word”. ἐκεῖνος , Christ; see note on 1 John 2:6 . ἁγνός also proves that the reference is to Christ. As distinguished from ἅγιος , which implies absolute and essential purity, it denotes purity maintained with effort and fearfulness amid defilements and allurements, especially carnal. Cf. Plat. Def. : ἁγνεία εὐλάβεια τῶν πρὸς τοὺς θεούς ἁμαρτημάτων · τῆς θεοῦ τιμῆς κατὰ φύσιν θεραπεία . Suid.: ἐπίτασις σωφροσύνης . God is called ἅγιος but never ἁγνός . Christ is ἁγνός because of His human experience. The duty of every one in view of his appearing before God, his presentation to the King, is ἁγνίζειν ἑαυτόν , like the worshippers before the Feast (John 11:55 ), like the people before the Lord’s manifestation at Sinai (Exodus 19:10-11 , LXX). It is his own work, not God’s, or rather it is his and God’s. Cf. Philippians 2:12-13 . Aug.: “Videte quemadmodum non abstulit liberum arbitrium, ut diceret, castificat semetipsum . Quis nos castificat nisi Deus? Sed Deus te nolentem non castificat. Ergo quod adjungis voluntatem tuam Deo, castificas teipsum.”

Verse 4

1 John 3:4 . ὁ ποι . τὴν ἁμ ., the converse of ὁ ποι . τὴν δικ . (1 John 2:29 ). νόμος , the revelation of God’s will, the Father’s requirement of His children, an expression of the true law of their nature, ἡ ἁμ . ἐστ . ἡ ἀν .: the article in both subject and predicate make “sin” and “lawlessness” convertible and co-extensive terms.

Verses 4-8

1 John 3:4-8 . The Incompatibility of Sonship with Continuance in Sin.

Verses 4-12

1 John 3:4-12 . The Obligation of our Dignity as Children of God. “Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that He was manifested that He might take away the sins; and sin in Him there is not. Every one that abideth in Him doth not keep sinning; every one that keepeth sinning hath not seen Him nor got to know Him. Little children, let no one lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous; he that doeth sin is of the Devil, because from the beginning the Devil keepeth sinning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might undo the works of the Devil. Every one that hath been begotten of God doeth not sin, because His seed in him abideth; and he cannot keep sinning, because of God he hath been begotten. Herein are manifest the children of God and the children of the Devil: every one that doeth not righteousness is not of God, and he that loveth not his brother. Because this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we love one another. Not as Cain was of the Evil One and slew his brother. And wherefore did he slay him? Because his works were evil, but his brother’s righteous.”

Verse 5

1 John 3:5 . The purpose of the Incarnation was to “take away the sins” atone for the sins of the past and prevent sins in the future, αἴρειν , properly “lift up and carry away” ( cf. Mark 6:29 ; John 2:16 ), but the idea of expiation is involved since it is “the Lamb of God” that “taketh away the sins”. ἐκεῖνος , see note on 1 John 2:6 . ἁμαρτία , “sin,” i.e. the sinful principle: see note on 1 John 1:8 .

Verse 6

1 John 3:6 . This seems a stark contradiction of 1 John 1:8 to 1 John 2:2 . (1) St. Augustine first limits the statement: “In quantum in ipso manet, in tantum non peccat,” and then narrows the idea of “sin” by defining it as “not loving one’s brother” (1 John 3:10 ). (2) St. Bernard ( De Nat. et Dign. Am. Div. vi.) compares Romans 7:17 ; Romans 7:20 : “secundum hoc quod natus est ex Deo, id est secundum interioris hominis rationem, in tantum non peccat, in quantum peccatum quod corpus mortis foris operatur, odit potius quam approbat, semine spiritualis nativitatis quo ex Deo natus est eum interius conservante”. (3) Romanists limit “sin” to “mortal sin”. (4) Many commentators say that St. John is thinking only of the ideal. All these simply explain away the emphatic declaration. There is really no contradiction, and the Apostle’s meaning appears when account is taken of the terms he employs with accurate precision. In the earlier passage he says that there is indwelling sin in the believer. The sinful principle ( ἁμαρτία ) remains, and it manifests its presence by lapses from holiness occasional sins, definite, isolated acts of sin. This is the force ot the aorists, ἁμάρτητε , ἁμάρτῃ in 1 John 2:1 . Here he uses the present ἁμαρτάνειν (varied by ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ) with the implication of continuance in sin . The distinction between present and aorist is well exemplified by Matthew 6:11 : δὸς σήμερον as contrasted with Luke 11:3 : δίδου τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν , and Matthew 14:22 : ἐμβῆναικαὶ προάγειν . The distinction was obvious to St. John’s Greek readers, and they would feel no difficulty when he said, on the one hand: ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ , Παράκλητον ἔχομεν , and, on the other: πᾶςἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτόν . The believer may fall into sin but he will not walk in it. “Hath not seen Him,” because he is “in the darkness” ( cf. 1 John 1:5-7 ).

Verse 7

1 John 3:7 . An affectionate warning against Nicolaitan Antinomianism ( cf. note on 1 John 1:6-7 ). The Apostle cuts away vain pretences by a sharp principle: a righteous character expresses itself in righteous conduct. Christ ( ἐκεῖνος ) is the type. He was “the Son of God,” and if we are “children of God,” we must be like Him.

Verse 8

1 John 3:8 . ὁ ποι . τὴν ἁμ ., an emphatic and interpretative variation of ὁ ἁμαρτάνων “he that makes sin his business or practice”. ἐκ of parentage ( cf. 1 John 3:9 ); “hoc est, ex patre diabolo” (Clem. Alex.). ἀπʼ ἀρχ ., a vague phrase. In 1 John 1:1 “ere time began”; in 1 John 2:7 , 1 John 3:11 ,“from the beginning of your Christian life”. Here “from the beginning of his diabolic career”; “a quo peccare cœpit incontrovertibiliter in peccando perseverans” (Clem. Alex.). λύσῃ , “loose,” metaphorically of “loosening a bond,” “relaxing an obligation” (Matthew 5:19 ; John 5:18 ), “pulling to pieces” (John 2:19 ).

Verse 9

1 John 3:9 . The Reason of the Impossibility of a Child of God continuing in Sin. The germ of the divine life has been implanted in our souls, and it grows a gradual process and subject to occasional retardations, yet sure, attaining at length to full fruition. The believer’s lapses into sin are like the mischances of the weather which hinder the seed’s growth. The growth of a living seed may be checked temporarily; if there be no growth, there is no life. This is the distinction between ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ and ὁ ἁμαρτάνων . Alexander in Speaker’s Comm. understands: “His seed,” i.e. , whosoever is born of God ( cf. Isaiah 53:10 ; Isaiah 66:22 ), “abideth in Him,” i.e. , in God. This is Pauline but not Johannine. “He cannot keep sinning,” as the seed cannot cease growing.

Verse 10

1 John 3:10 . The Apostle reiterates the “old commandment” (1 John 2:7-11 ) as not only the paramount duty of believers but the evidence of their divine sonship. He has said that the evidence lies in “doing righteousness,” and now he defines ποιεῖν δικαιοσύνην as ἀγαπᾶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ . See note on 1 John 2:9 . The “righteousness” of the Pharisees consisted in ritual observance, that of Jesus in love. δίκαιος had the meaning “kind,” “sweetly reasonable”. See Hatch, Ess. in Bib. Gk. , p. 50 ff. On Matthew 1:19 St. Chrysostom remarks: δίκαιον ἐνταῦθα τὸν ἐνάρετον ἐν ἅπασι λέγει . ἔστι μὲν γὰρ δικαιοσύνη καὶ τὸ μὴ πλεονεκτεῖν · ἔστι δὲ καὶκαθόλου ἀρετή .… δίκαιος οὖν ὢν , τούτεστι χρηστὸς καὶ ἐπιεικής .

Verses 10-12

1 John 3:10-12 . The Evidence of Divine Sonship, viz. , Human Brotherhood.

Verse 11

1 John 3:11 . ἵνα ecbatic, expressing not the aim but simply the substance of the message. Cf. John 17:3 . See Moulton’s Gram. of N.T. Gk. , p. 206; Moulton’s Winer , p. 425.

Verse 12

1 John 3:12 . οὐ καθὼς , κ . τ . λ ., a loose, almost ungrammatical expression, analogous to John 6:58 . Were there no οὐ , 1 John 3:11 might be regarded as a parenthesis: “he that loveth not his brother, even as Cain was, etc.”. The phrase is elliptical: “We must not hate our brethren, even as Cain was, etc.”. τοῦ πον ., see note on 1 John 2:18 . ἔσφαξεν , a strong word, “slaughtered,” “butchered,” properly by cutting the throat ( jugulare ), like an ox in the shambles.

Verse 13

1 John 3:13 . It is natural that the world (see notes on 1 John 2:15 , 1 John 3:1 ) should hate those whose lives contradict its maxims and condemn its practices. St. John frequently addresses his readers as τεκνία and ἀγαπητοί , here only as ἀδελφοί . The term suits the context, where he enforces love of the brethren. It is no wonder if the world hate us, and its judgment is not decisive. Nevertheless our business is not to be hated by the world, but to commend Jesus to it and win it. We must not impute to the world’s hostility to goodness the consequences of our own unamiability or tactlessness. “It is not martyrdom to pay bills that one has run into one’s self” (Geo. Eliot).

Verses 13-24

1 John 3:13-24 . The Secret of Assurance. “Wonder not, brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have migrated out of the domain of death into the domain of life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in the domain of death. Everyone that hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that every murderer hath not life eternal abiding in him. Herein have we got to know love, because He laid down His life for us; and we are bound to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whosoever hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and locketh up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth. Herein shall we get to know that we are of the Truth, and in His presence shall assure our heart, whereinsoever our heart may condemn us, because greater is God than our heart, and He readeth everything. Beloved, if the heart condemn not, we have boldness toward God, and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we observe His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, that we believe the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, even as He gave a commandment to us. And he that observeth His commandments in Him abideth and He in him; and herein we get to know that He abideth in us from the Spirit which He gave us.”

Verse 14

1 John 3:14 . ἡμεῖς emphatic: “Whatever the world may say, we know”. The test is not its hatred but our love. μεταβεβήκαμεν , “have migrated”. The word is used of transition from one place to another (John 7:3 ; John 13:1 ), of passing from one form of government to another (Plat. Rep. 550 D), of the transmigration of souls (Luc. Gall. 4).

Verse 15

1 John 3:15 . An echo of the teaching of Jesus. See Matthew 5:21-22 and cf. Smith, The Days of His Flesh , pp. 96 98.

Verse 16

1 John 3:16 . τὴν ἀγάπην , “the thing called ‘love’ ”. The love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is the perfect type. Till the world saw that, it never knew what love is. ἐκεῖνος , Christ; see note on 1 John 2:6 . ἡμεῖς emphatic, “we on our part”. ὀφείλομεν , see note on 1 John 2:6 .

Verse 17

1 John 3:17 . Love must be practical. It is easy to “lay down one’s life”: martyrdom is heroic and exhilarating; the difficulty lies in doing the little things, facing day by day the petty sacrifices and self-denials which no one notices and no one applauds. τόν βίον τοῦ κόσμου , “the livelihood of the world”; see note on 1 John 2:16 . θεωρῇ , of a moving spectacle; cf. Matthew 27:55 . κλείσῃ , schliesst : the metaphor is locking the chamber of the heart instead of flinging it wide open and lavishing its treasures. σπλάγχνα , רַתְֽמִים , viscera , “the inward parts,” viewed by the ancients as the seat of the affections. Cf. Colossians 3:12 : σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ . ἡ ἀγ . τ . Θ ., “love for God” (objective genitive), inspired by and answering to the love which God feels (subjective genitive). Cf. note on 1 John 2:5 .

Verse 18

1 John 3:18 . Observe the transition from instrumental dative to preposition ἐν : “not with word and the tongue but in the midst of deed and truth” not in empty air but amid tangible realities. Cf. Bunyan, Good News : “Practical love is best. Many love Christ with nothing but the lick of the tongue.” Sheridan, Sch. for Scand. v. i.: “He appears to have as much speculative benevolence as any private gentleman in the kingdom, though he is seldom so sensual as to indulge himself in the exercise of it”.

Verses 19-20

1 John 3:19-20 . A crux interpretum . Read τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν ὅ , τι ἐάν ( i.e. ἄν ), and take the subsequent ὅτι as “because”. The foregoing exhortation may have awakened a misgiving in our minds: “Am I loving as I ought?” Our failures in duty and service rise up before us, and “our heart condemns us”. So the Apostle furnishes a grand reassurance: “Herein shall we get to know that we are of the Truth, and in His presence shall assure our heart, whereinsoever our heart may condemn us, because, etc.”. The reassurance is two-fold: (1) The worst that is in us is known to God ( cf. Aug.: Cor tuum abscondis ab homine; a Deo absconde si potes ), and still He cares for us and desires us. Our discovery has been an open secret to Him all along. (2) He “readeth everything” sees the deepest things, and these are the real things. This is the true test of a man: Is the deepest that is in him the best? Is he better than he seems? His failures lie on the surface: is there a desire for goodness deep down in his soul? Is he glad to escape from superficial judgments and be judged by God who “readeth everything,” who sees “with larger other eyes than ours, to make allowance for us all”? Cf. F. W. Robertson, Lett. lvi.: “I remember an anecdote of Thomas Scott having said to his curate, who was rather agitated on having to preach before him, ‘Well, sir, why should you be afraid before me, when you are not afraid before God?’ But how very easy it was to answer! He had only to say, God is not jealous, nor envious, nor censorious; besides, God can make allowances”. So Browning:

“Thoughts hardly to be packed

Into a narrow act,

Fancies that broke through language and escaped;

All I could never be,

All, men ignored in me,

This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.”

ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ , and what matter how we appear ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων (Matthew 6:1 .)? πείσομεν , “persuade,’ i.e. pacify, win the confidence, soothe the alarm, of our heart. Cf. Matthew 28:14 . Otherwise: “we shall persuade our heart … that greater is God”. But how can love for the brethren yield this inference? γινώσκει πάντα , “readeth every secret”. Cf. John 2:25 . A quite different and less satisfying sense is got by punctuating τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν . ὅτι ἐάν , κ . τ . λ . The second ὅτι is then a difficulty and has been dealt with in three ways: (1) It has been ignored as redundant: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater, etc.” (A.V. fortified by the omission of the participle in some inferior MSS.). (2) An ellipse has been assumed either of the substantive verb: “because if our heart condemns us, (it is) because God, etc.” (Alford), or of δῆλον (Field, who compares 1 Timothy 6:7 ): “it is plain that God, etc.” (3) ὅτι has been conjecturally emended into ἔτι (Steph., Bez.): “still greater is God, etc.”.

Verses 21-22

1 John 3:21-22 . παρρησίαν , see note on 1 John 2:28 . ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν λαμβάνομεν , though not always in the form we expect or desire; the answer may be different from but it is always better than our prayer. St. Augustine draws a distinction between the hearing of prayer “ad salutem” and “ad voluntatem,” comparing the experience of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ): “Rogasti, clamasti, terclamasti: ipsum semel quod clamasti audivi, non averti aures meas a te; novi quid faciam; tu vis auferri medicamentum quo ureris; ego novi infirmitatem qua gravaris. Ergo iste ad salutem exauditus est, ad voluntatem non est exauditus.… Tu morbum confitearis, ille medicamentum adhibeat.” Cf. Juan de Avila: “Go to prayer rather to hearken than to speak. Bend humbly and lovingly before God, expecting.” τηροῦμεν , see note on 1 John 2:3 .

Verse 23

1 John 3:23 . Cf. our Lord’s summary of the commandments in Matthew 22:34-40 = Mark 12:28-31 , and observe the apostolic narrowing of τὸν πλησίον σου ( cf. Luke 10:29-37 ) to ἀλλήλους , i.e. τούς ἀδελφούς (see note on 1 John 2:9 ). τῷ ὀνόματι , see note on 1 John 2:12 .

Verse 24

1 John 3:24 . τὰς ἐντ . αὐτ ., “the commandments of God,” resuming 1 John 3:22 . Cf. 1 John 4:15 . ἐκ , the assurance is begotten of the Spirit; see note on 1 John 2:21 . οὗ for ὅ , by attraction to the case of the antecedent ( cf. Luke 2:20 ; Revelation 18:6 ). ἔδωκεν , “gave,” i.e. , when first we believed. For the thought cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ; Ephesians 1:13-14 ; also Romans 8:15-16 .

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 3". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.