1 John 5:1-21. Who are the brethren especially to be loved (1 John 4:21); Obedience, the test of love, easy through faith, which overcomes the world. Last portion of the epistle. The spirit‘s witness to the believer‘s spiritual life. Truths repeated at the close: Farewell warning.
Reason why our “brother” (1 John 4:21) is entitled to such love, namely, because he is “born (begotten) of God”: so that if we want to show our love to God, we must show it to God‘s visible representative.
Whosoever — Greek, “Everyone that.” He could not be our “Jesus” (God-Savior) unless He were “the Christ”; for He could not reveal the way of salvation, except He were a prophet: He could not work out that salvation, except He were a priest: He could not confer that salvation upon us, except He were a king: He could not be prophet, priest, and king, except He were the Christ [Pearson, Exposition of the Creed].
born — Translate, “begotten,” as in the latter part of the verse, the Greek being the same. Christ is the “only-begotten Son” by generation; we become begotten sons of God by regeneration and adoption.
every one that loveth him that begat — sincerely, not in mere profession (1 John 4:20).
loveth him also that is begotten of him — namely, “his brethren” (1 John 4:21).
By — Greek, “In.” As our love to the brethren is the sign and test of our love to God, so (John here says) our love to God (tested by our “keeping his commandments”) is, conversely, the ground and only true basis of love to our brother.
we know — John means here, not the outward criteria of genuine brotherly love, but the inward spiritual criteria of it, consciousness of love to God manifested in a hearty keeping of His commandments. When we have this inwardly and outwardly confirmed love to God, we can know assuredly that we truly love the children of God. “Love to one‘s brother is prior, according to the order of nature (see on 1 John 4:20); love to God is so, according to the order of grace (1 John 5:2). At one time the former is more immediately known, at another time the latter, according as the mind is more engaged in human relations or in what concerns the divine honor” [Estius]. John shows what true love is, namely, that which is referred to God as its first object. As previously John urged the effect, so now he urges the cause. For he wishes mutual love to be so cultivated among us, as that God should always be placed first [Calvin].
this is — the love of God consists in this.
not grievous — as so many think them. It is “the way of the transgressor” that “is hard.” What makes them to the regenerate “not grievous,” is faith which “overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4): in proportion as faith is strong, the grievousness of God‘s commandments to the rebellious flesh is overcome. The reason why believers feel any degree of irksomeness in God‘s commandments is, they do not realize fully by faith the privileges of their spiritual life.
For — (See on 1 John 5:3). The reason why “His commandments are not grievous.” Though there is a conflict in keeping them, the sue for the whole body of the regenerate is victory over every opposing influence; meanwhile there is a present joy to each believer in keeping them which makes them “not grievous.”
whatsoever — Greek, “all that is begotten of God.” The neuter expresses the universal whole, or aggregate of the regenerate, regarded as one collective body John 3:6; John 6:37, John 6:39, “where Bengel remarks, that in Jesus‘ discourses, what the Father has given Him is called, in the singular number and neuter gender, all whatsoever; those who come to the Son are described in the masculine gender and plural number, they all, or singular, every one. The Father has given, as it were, the whole mass to the Son, that all whom He gave may be one whole: that universal whole the Son singly evolves, in the execution of the divine plan.”
overcometh — habitually.
the world — all that is opposed to keeping the commandments of God, or draws us off from God, in this world, including our corrupt flesh, on which the world‘s blandishments or threats act, as also including Satan, the prince of this world (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11).
this is the victory that overcometh — Greek aorist, “ that hath (already) overcome the world”: the victory (where faith is) hereby is implied as having been already obtained (1 John 2:13; 1 John 4:4).
Who — “Who” else “but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God:” “the Christ” (1 John 5:1)? Confirming, by a triumphant question defying all contradiction, as an undeniable fact, 1 John 5:4, that the victory which overcomes the world is faith. For it is by believing: that we are made one with Jesus the Son of God, so that we partake of His victory over the world, and have dwelling in us One greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). “Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a Christian, and endowed with this faith” [Episcopius in Alford].
This — the Person mentioned in 1 John 5:5. This Jesus.
he that came by water and blood — “by water,” when His ministry was inaugurated by baptism in the Jordan, and He received the Father‘s testimony to His Messiahship and divine Sonship. Compare 1 John 5:5, “believeth that Jesus is the Son of God,” with John 1:33, John 1:34, “The Spirit remaining on Him I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God”; and 1 John 5:8, below, “there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” Corresponding to this is the baptism of water and the Spirit which He has instituted as a standing seal and mean of initiatory incorporation with Him.
and blood — He came by “the blood of His cross” (so “by” is used, Hebrews 9:12: “by,” that is, with, “His own blood He entered in once into the holy place”): a fact seen and so solemnly witnessed to by John. “These two past facts in the Lord‘s life are this abiding testimony to us, by virtue of the permanent application to us of their cleansing and atoning power.”
Jesus Christ — not a mere appellation, but a solemn assertion of the Lord‘s Person and Messiahship.
not by, etc. — Greek, “not IN the water only, but IN the water and IN (so oldest manuscripts add) the blood.” As “by” implies the mean through, or with, which He came: so “in,” the element in which He came. “The” implies that the water and the blood were sacred and well-known symbols. John Baptist came only baptizing with water, and therefore was not the Messiah. Jesus came first to undergo Himself the double baptism of water and blood, and then to baptize us with the Spirit-cleansing, of which water is the sacramental seal, and with His atoning blood, the efficacy of which, once for all shed, is perpetual in the Church; and therefore is the Messiah. It was His shed blood which first gave water baptism its spiritual significancy. We are baptized into His death: the grand point of union between us and Him, and, through Him, between us and God.
it is the Spirit, etc. — The Holy Spirit is an additional witness (compare 1 John 5:7), besides the water and the blood, to Jesus‘ Sonship and Messiahship. The Spirit attested these truths at Jesus‘ baptism by descending on Him, and throughout His ministry by enabling Him to speak and do what man never before or since has spoken or, done; and “it is the Spirit that beareth witness” of Christ, now permanently in the Church: both in the inspired New Testament Scriptures, and in the hearts of believers, and in the spiritual reception of baptism and the Lord‘s Supper.
because the Spirit is truth — It is His essential truth which gives His witness such infallible authority.
three — Two or three witnesses were required by law to constitute adequate testimony. The only Greek manuscripts in any form which support the words, “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness in earth,” are the Montfortianus of Dublin, copied evidently from the modern Latin Vulgate; the Ravianus, copied from the Complutensian Polyglot; a manuscript at Naples, with the words added in the Margin by a recent hand; Ottobonianus, 298, of the fifteenth century, the Greek of which is a mere translation of the accompanying Latin. All the old versions omit the words. The oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate omit them: the earliest Vulgate manuscript which has them being Wizanburgensis, 99, of the eighth century. A scholium quoted in Matthaei, shows that the words did not arise from fraud; for in the words, in all Greek manuscripts “there are three that bear record,” as the Scholiast notices, the word “three” is masculine, because the three things (the Spirit, the water, and the blood) are SYMBOLS OF THE TRINITY. To this Cyprian, 196, also refers, “Of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is written, ‹And these three are one‘ (a unity).” There must be some mystical truth implied in using “three” (Greek) in the masculine, though the antecedents, “Spirit, water, and blood,” are neuter. That THE TRINITY was the truth meant is a natural inference: the triad specified pointing to a still Higher Trinity; as is plain also from 1 John 5:9, “the witness of God,” referring to the Trinity alluded to in the Spirit, water, and blood. It was therefore first written as a marginal comment to complete the sense of the text, and then, as early at least as the eighth century, was introduced into the text of the Latin Vulgate. The testimony, however, could only be borne on earth to men, not in heaven. The marginal comment, therefore, that inserted “in heaven,” was inappropriate. It is on earth that the context evidently requires the witness of the three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, to be borne: mystically setting forth the divine triune witnesses, the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. Luecke notices as internal evidence against the words, John never uses “the Father” and “the Word” as correlates, but, like other New Testament writers, associates “the Son” with “the Father,” and always refers “the Word” to “God” as its correlate, not “the Father.” Vigilius, at the end of the fifth century, is the first who quotes the disputed words as in the text; but no Greek manuscript earlier than the fifteenth is extant with them. The term “Trinity” occurs first in the third century in Tertullian [Against Praxeas, 3].
agree in one — “tend unto one result”; their agreeing testimony to Jesus‘ Sonship and Messiahship they give by the sacramental grace in the water of baptism, received by the penitent believer, by the atoning efficacy of His blood, and by the internal witness of His Spirit (1 John 5:10): answering to the testimony given to Jesus‘ Sonship and Messiahship by His baptism, His crucifixion, and the Spirit‘s manifestations in Him (see on 1 John 5:6). It was by His coming by water (that is, His baptism in Jordan) that Jesus was solemnly inaugurated in office, and revealed Himself as Messiah; this must have been peculiarly important in John‘s estimation, who was first led to Christ by the testimony of the Baptist. By the baptism then received by Christ, and by His redeeming blood-shedding, and by that which the Spirit of God, whose witness is infallible, has effected, and still effects, by Him, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, unite, as the threefold witness, to verify His divine Messiahship [Neander].
If, etc. — We do accept (and rightly so) the witness of veracious men, fallible though they be; much more ought we to accept the infallible witness of God (the Father). “The testimony of the Father is, as it were, the basis of the testimony of the Word and of the Holy Spirit; just as the testimony of the Spirit is, as it were, the basis of the testimony of the water and the blood” [Bengel].
for — This principle applies in the present case, FOR, etc.
which — in the oldest manuscripts, “because He hath given testimony concerning His Son.” What that testimony is we find above in 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:5, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”; and below in 1 John 5:10, 1 John 5:11.
hath the witness — of God, by His Spirit (1 John 5:8).
in himself — God‘s Spirit dwelling in him and witnessing that “Jesus is the Lord,” “the Christ,” and “the Son of God” (1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:5). The witness of the Spirit in the believer himself to his own sonship is not here expressed, but follows as a consequence of believing the witness of God to Jesus‘ divine Sonship.
believeth not God — credits not His witness.
made him a liar — a consequence which many who virtually, or even avowedly, do not believe, may well startle back from as fearful blasphemy and presumption (1 John 1:10).
believeth not the record — Greek, “believeth not IN the record, or witness.” Refusal to credit God‘s testimony (“believeth not God”) is involved in refusal to believe IN (to rest one‘s trust in) Jesus Christ, the object of God‘s record or testimony. “Divine “faith” is an assent unto something as credible upon the testimony of God. This is the highest kind of faith; because the object hath the highest credibility, because grounded upon the testimony of God, which is infallible” [Pearson, Exposition of the Creed]. “The authority on which we believe is divine; the doctrine which we follow is divine” [Leo].
gave — Greek, “hath testified, and now testifies.”
of — concerning.
hath given — Greek, aorist: “gave” once for all. Not only “promised” it.
life is in his Son — essentially (John 1:4; John 11:25; John 14:6); bodily (Colossians 2:9); operatively (2 Timothy 1:10) [Lange in Alford]. It is in the second Adam, the Son of God, that this life is secured to us, which, if left to depend on us, we should lose, like the first Adam.
The oldest manuscripts and versions read, “These things have I written unto you [omitting ‹that believe on the name of the Son of God‘] that ye may know that ye have eternal life (compare 1 John 5:11), THOSE (of you I mean) WHO believe (not as English Version reads, ‹and that ye may believe‘) on the name of the Son of God.” English Version, in the latter clause, will mean, “that ye may continue to believe,” etc. (compare 1 John 5:12).
These things — This Epistle. He, towards the close of his Gospel (John 20:30, John 20:31), wrote similarly, stating his purpose in having written. In 1 John 1:4 he states the object of his writing this Epistle to be, “that your joy may be full.” To “know that we have eternal life” is the sure way to “joy in God.”
the confidence — boldness (1 John 4:17) in prayer, which results from knowing that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13; 1 John 3:19, 1 John 3:22).
according to his will — which is the believer‘s will, and which is therefore no restraint to his prayers. In so far as God‘s will is not our will, we are not abiding in faith, and our prayers are not accepted. Alford well says, If we knew God‘s will thoroughly, and submitted to it heartily, it would be impossible for us to ask anything for the spirit or for the body which He should not perform; it is this ideal state which the apostle has in view. It is the Spirit who teaches us inwardly, and Himself in us asks according to the will of God.
hear — Greek, “that He heareth us.”
we have the petitions that we desired of him — We have, as present possessions, everything whatsoever we desired (asked) from Him. Not one of our past prayers offered in faith, according to His will, is lost. Like Hannah, we can rejoice over them as granted even before the event; and can recognize the event when it comes to pass, as not from chance, but obtained by our past prayers. Compare also Jehoshaphat‘s believing confidence in the issue of his prayers, so much so that he appointed singers to praise the Lord beforehand.
his brother — a fellow Christian.
sin a sin — in the act of sinning, and continuing in the sin: present.
not unto death — provided that it is not unto death.
he shall give — The asker shall be the means, by his intercessory prayer, of God giving life to the sinning brother. Kindly reproof ought to accompany his intercessions. Life was in process of being forfeited by the sinning brother when the believer‘s intercession obtained its restoration.
for them — resuming the proviso put forth in the beginning of the verse. “Provided that the sin is not unto death.” “Shall give life,” I say, to, that is, obtain life “for (in the case of) them that sin not unto death.”
I do not say that he shall pray for it — The Greek for “pray” means a REQUEST as of one on an equality, or at least on terms of familiarity, with him from whom the favor is sought. “The Christian intercessor for his brethren, John declares, shall not assume the authority which would be implied in making request for a sinner who has sinned the sin unto death (1 Samuel 15:35; 1 Samuel 16:1; Mark 3:29), that it might be forgiven him” [Trench, Greek Synonyms of the New Testament]. Compare Deuteronomy 3:26. Greek “ask” implies the humble petition of an inferior; so that our Lord never uses it, but always uses (Greek) “request.” Martha, from ignorance, once uses “ask” in His case (John 11:22). “Asking” for a brother sinning not unto death, is a humble petition in consonance with God‘s will. To “request” for a sin unto death [intercede, as it were, authoritatively for it, as though we were more merciful than God] would savor of presumption; prescribing to God in a matter which lies out of the bounds of our brotherly yearning (because one sinning unto death would thereby be demonstrated not to be, nor ever to have been, truly a brother, 1 John 2:19), how He shall inflict and withhold His righteous judgments. Jesus Himself intercedes, not for the world which hardens itself in unbelief, but for those given to Him out of the world.
“Every unrighteousness (even that of believers, compare 1 John 1:9; 1 John 3:4. Every coming short of right) is sin”; (but) not every sin is the sin unto death.
and there is a sin not unto death — in the case of which, therefore, believers may intercede. Death and life stand in correlative opposition (1 John 5:11-13). The sin unto death must be one tending “towards” (so the Greek), and so resulting in, death. Alford makes it to be an appreciable ACT of sin, namely, the denying Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (in contrast to confess this truth, 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:5), 1 John 2:19, 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3; 1 John 5:10. Such willful deniers of Christ are not to be received into one‘s house, or wished “God speed.” Still, I think with Bengel, not merely the act, but also the state of apostasy accompanying the act, is included - a “state of soul in which faith, love, and hope, in short, the new life, is extinguished. The chief commandment is faith and love. Therefore, the chief sin is that by which faith and love are destroyed. In the former case is life; in the latter, death. As long as it is not evident (see on 1 John 5:16, on ‹see‘) that it is a sin unto death, it is lawful to pray. But when it is deliberate rejection of grace, and the man puts from him life thereby, how can others procure for him life?” Contrast James 5:14-18. Compare Matthew 12:31, Matthew 12:32 as to the willful rejection of Christ, and resistance to the Holy Ghost‘s plain testimony to Him as the divine Messiah. Jesus, on the cross, pleaded only for those who KNEW NOT what they were doing in crucifying Him, not for those willfully resisting grace and knowledge. If we pray for the impenitent, it must be with humble reference of the matter to God‘s will, not with the intercessory request which we should offer for a brother when erring.
(1 John 3:9.)
We know — Thrice repeated emphatically, to enforce the three truths which the words preface, as matters of the brethren‘s joint experimental knowledge. This 1 John 5:18 warns against abusing 1 John 5:16, 1 John 5:17, as warranting carnal security.
whosoever — Greek, “every one who.” Not only advanced believers, but every one who is born again, “sinneth not.”
he that is begotten — Greek aorist, “has been (once for all in past time) begotten of God”; in the beginning of the verse it is perfect. “Is begotten,” or “born,” as a continuing state.
keepeth himself — The Vulgate translates, “The having been begotten of God keepeth HIM” (so one of the oldest manuscripts reads): so Alford. Literally, “He having been begotten of God (nominative pendent), it (the divine generation implied in the nominative) keepeth him.” So 1 John 3:9, “His seed remaineth in him.” Still, in English Version reading, God‘s working by His Spirit inwardly, and man‘s working under the power of that Spirit as a responsible agent, is what often occurs elsewhere. That God must keep us, if we are to keep ourselves from evil, is certain. Compare John 17:15 especially with this verse.
that wicked one toucheth him not — so as to hurt him. In so far as he realizes his regeneration-life, the prince of this world hath nothing in him to fasten his deadly temptations on, as in Christ‘s own case. His divine regeneration has severed once for all his connection with the prince of this world.
world lieth in wickedness — rather, “lieth in the wicked one,” as the Greek is translated in 1 John 5:18; 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14; compare 1 John 4:4; John 17:14, John 17:15. The world lieth in the power of, and abiding in, the wicked one, as the resting-place and lord of his slaves; compare “abideth in death,” 1 John 3:14; contrast 1 John 5:20, “we are in Him that is true.” While the believer has been delivered out of his power, the whole world lieth helpless and motionless still in it, just as it was; including the wise, great, respectable, and all who are not by vital union in Christ.
Summary of our Christian privileges.
is come — is present, having come. “HE IS HERE - all is full of Him - His incarnation, work, and abiding presence, is to us a living fact” [Alford].
given us an understanding — Christ‘s, office is to give the inner spiritual understanding to discern the things of God.
that we may know — Some oldest manuscripts read, “(so) that we know.”
him that is true — God, as opposed to every kind of idol or false god (1 John 5:21). Jesus, by virtue of His oneness with God, is also “He that is true” (Revelation 3:7).
even - “we are in the true” God, by virtue of being “in His Son Jesus Christ.”
This is the true God — “This Jesus Christ (the last-named Person) is the true God” (identifying Him thus with the Father in His attribute, “the only true God,” John 17:3, primarily attributed to the Father).
and eternal life — predicated of the Son of God; Alford wrongly says, He was the life, but not eternal life. The Father is indeed eternal life as its source, but the Son also is that eternal life manifested, as the very passage (1 John 1:2) which Alford quotes, proves against him. Compare also 1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:13. Plainly it is as the Mediator of ETERNAL LIFE to us that Christ is here contemplated. The Greek is, “The true God and eternal life is this” Jesus Christ, that is, In believing in Him we believe in the true God, and have eternal life. The Son is called “He that is TRUE,” Revelation 3:7, as here. This naturally prepares the way for warning against false gods (1 John 5:21). Jesus Christ is the only “express image of God‘s person” which is sanctioned, the only true visible manifestation of God. All other representations of God are forbidden as idols. Thus the Epistle closes as it began (1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2).
Affectionate parting caution.
from idols — Christians were then everywhere surrounded by idolaters, with whom it was impossible to avoid intercourse. Hence the need of being on their guard against any even indirect compromise or act of communion with idolatry. Some at Pergamos, in the region whence John wrote, fell into the snare of eating things sacrificed to idols. The moment we cease to abide “in Him that is true (by abiding) in Jesus Christ,” we become part of “the world that lieth in the wicked one," given up to spiritual, if not in all places literal, idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).
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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany