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Bible Commentaries
1 John 1

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Verses 1-3

1Jn 1:1-3

SECTION ONE

INTRODUCTION

(1 John 1:1-4)

PROOF OF THE MANIFESTATION

OF THE WORD

(1 John 1:1-3)

The Epistle opens with an exordium, or introduction (1 John 1:1-4), in which the author sets out the personal experiences which had been his, thus enabling him to offer eyewitness testimony regarding the facts presented and to announce the purpose for which they were offered. This introduction consists of a lengthy and involved sentence, but it may be analyzed as follows: (a) beginning of the sentence in 1 John 1:1; (b) its temporary suspension and the insertion of 1 John 1:2 as a parenthetical statement to explain 1 John 1:1; (c) resumption of the original thought in 1 John 1:3 with enough of 1 John 1:1 repeated to enable the reader to resume the thought. Omitting the parenthetical statement of 1 John 1:2, we may gather up the thought set out in 1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:3 as follows: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen, which we beheld, and which our hands handled con-cerning the Word of life, we declare unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us."

The striking resemblance between this exordium of the First Epistle of John and the "Gospel" which he wrote is immediately apparent, and will appear clearly in the following parallel:

The GospelThe Epistle
"In the beginning (en arche) was the Word." (John 1:1.)"That which was from the beginning" (ap’ arches). (; 1 John 1:1 .)
"And the Word was with God" ÷(pros ton Theon). (John 1:1.)"The Life. .which was with the Father" (pros ton Patera), (; 1 John 1:2.)

Verse 4

1Jn 1:4

PURPOSE OF WRITING

(1 John 1:4)

4 And these things we write, that our joy may be made full.--"These things" were the matters immediately referred to in the early verses of the chapter and, in a secondary sense, in all of the Epistle. The plural pronoun "we" is a common literary device and does not, of course, mean that others were joined with John in the authorship of this Epistle. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Philem. 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1.) The purpose for which "these things" were penned was that the joy of John might abound. Through the announcement of the testimony regarding Christ (verse 1) fellowship would obtain (verse 3), and the effect of this fellowship was joy. The same writer later said, "I re-joiced greatly, when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in the truth. Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 1:3-4.)

In the foregoing verses is another of the many parallels which occur between this Epistle and the Gospel by the same writer

The EpistleThe Gospel
"That ye also may have fellowship with us." (1:3.)"That they may all be one." (17:20.)
"Our fellowship is with the Fa-ther and his Son, Jesus Christ." (1:3.)"That they also may be one in us." (17:21.)
"These things we write, that our joy may be made full." (1:4.) "And these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in them-selves."

Commentary on 1 John 1:4 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 1:4. That your joy may be full. The last word is where the emphasis of thought should be placed. Small or partial joy may be possible from many different sources, but the joy that can come from a faith in the only divine Son of God is full both in the sense of being complete in its extent, and perfect in its quality. It will leave nothing that can reasonably be desired further by a firm believer.

Commentary on 1 John 1:4 by N.T. Caton

1 John 1:4—And these things write we.

I, it is true, write you, but in so doing you may feel assured that it is the same as though all the witnesses of the Lord were writing, and the object of writing to you concerning the things of the Lord and our fellowship with him is that your joy may be full and complete when you fully recognize the great honor that is thus bestowed upon you.

Commentary on 1 John 1:4 by Burton Coffman

1 John 1:4 --and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.

We write ... It has been debated whether this applies primarily to the whole apostolic message just referred to in the prologue or to the epistle about to follow. Scott is likely correct in referring both to the apostolic proclamation "Declare we (1 John 1:3) and write we (1 John 1:4) refer to the same message."[20] Since the epistle itself is part of the apostolic message, this appears to be logical.

A NOTE REGARDING "ETERNAL LIFE"

Before leaving this study of the prologue, a little further attention to the subject of eternal life is appropriate. It is well known that both in the gospel and the epistles John often speaks of eternal life as the present possession of Christians. J. W. Roberts has given a thorough discussion of this in his commentary. He cited many passages that indicate that, "In some sense, John sees the Christian as enjoying eternal life here and now,"[21] a proposition that is obvious to any reader or student of John. He concluded that, "The eternal life which the believer has (present tense) is to be interpreted not as quantitative (everlasting) but as qualitative."[22] Those qualities of the Christian’s present "eternal life" are evident in the declarations that he "has passed from death into life," that he is a "partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and that he arises from baptism to walk "in newness of life."

No disagreement whatever is felt with regard to Roberts’ analysis; but it seems appropriate to guard against any misunderstanding of it. The Christian’s possession of eternal life now and here must be understood in the sense of his enjoying the blessed promise of it. The earnest of it (Ephesians 1:13) which he now sheds forth in his heart many qualities of the ultimate eternal life that shall crown the efforts of the faithful in heaven; and, in that possession of the earnest, the Christian certainly enjoys qualitatively the eternal life yet to come; but it should always be remembered that in no sense should the earnest (which of the whole is only a very small part) ever be equated with the entirety of that eternal life, which according to the blessed promise of the Christ himself is the ultimate reward of the faithful in Christ. Nor can it be thought even of those qualities of eternal life enjoyed in the present time, that they are in any sense to be equated completely with the ultimate "eternal life." The very term earnest forbids this. Not all the joys of eternal life are ours now; nor can it be thought, even of those fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 f) which we already possess, that they have the same fullness, quality, and intensity of the eternal life to come. Thus, in Roberts’ statement about having eternal life qualitatively, it would be wrong to understand it as totally so. It is more accurate to view the present possession of eternal life as prospective. It is ours in the sense of our possession of the blessed promise and the confident expectation of receiving the fulfillment of it at "the last day."

There is abundant testimony in the New Testament to the effect that not all of those qualities of eternal life ultimately expected are in the possession of the saints now. Even the apostle John’s joy was not yet full when he wrote this epistle, as indicated by the last verse of the prologue (1 John 1:4) above. Paul’s statement that it would be "better" to depart and be with Christ; John’s declaration that "it is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3:2); the absolute inability of any Christian ever to rise completely above all sin; the fact that it has never even entered into the heart of man (1 Corinthians 2:9) the things that God prepared for them that love him; the constant attendance upon human footsteps of sorrow, pain, and tribulations; - all such considerations deny the quality of that eternal life in Christians now as having any complete correspondence to the eternal life given on the last day to them who shall be invited to "enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:23). "Entering in" cannot be equated in any complete sense with "You have already entered."

[20] Ibid.

[21] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 26,27.

[22] Ibid.

Verses 5-7

1Jn 1:5-7

1 John 1:5-7

SECTION TWO

GOD IS LIGHT

(1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:28)

CONDITIONS OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

(1 John 1:5-7)

5 And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.--Again the apostle cites the sensible evidence which he had of the Lord’s identity, emphasized so strongly in verse 1, as the ground. of his readers’ acceptance of the "mes-sage" which he was announcing, viz., (1) God is light; (2) in him is no darkness at all. This message John and the other apostles had "heard" from "him," i.e., Christ. The affirmation, "God is light," is not the same as "God is the light" or "God is a light," but simply God is light, such is his essence he is of the character of light. The word "light" sums up the divine character on the intellectual side, as "God is love," similarly describes the fullness of his moral nature. He is the "author" of light (James 1:17) its creator (Genesis 1:3) he is bathed in perpetual light (1 Timothy 6:16); and the marvelous light in which Christians are to walk is his (1 Peter 2:9). Moreover, "in him is no darkness at all." "Darkness" is a figure of ignorance, superstition, and sin, as "light" represents truth, purity, and goodness. In this manner, God is contrasted with the heathen deities the worship of which promoted immorality, ungodliness, and gross sin. The devil and his agents are styled "the world rulers of this darkness" (Ephesians 6:12), and their domain is called "the power of darkness" (Colossians 1:13). Those formerly enmeshed in the mazes of heathenism were said to have been "once darkness," but now, as the result of their obedience to the gospel, "light in the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8.) Paul gave thanks unto the Father, "who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:12.)

Though there is much darkness in the world, "darkness in him there is none whatsoever." This statement, in the Greek text, is an exceedingly emphatic one, the two negatives, ouk estin oude-mia, signifying "no, not even one tiny particle!" There is no discoloration, no admixture of darkness in the pure light which streams from the character of God. He is, indeed, "the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning." (James 1:17.)

6 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:--This verse con-tains a conclusion drawn from premises in the verse preceding. The situation which he assumes is a hypothetical one: Should one say, "I have fellowship with God," and yet walks in darkness, his words are false, and he does not the truth. "Walk" is a figure of the Christian life, summing up its activities. The Lord said, "I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12.) To be in fellowship with God, one must walk in the light; he who claims it, yet does not walk therein, sins both in word and in deed. Here, as often elsewhere in the sacred writings, it is made clear that theory and practice in religion are inseparably connected. Truth, properly held, always exhibits itself in obedience. Those who "walk in darkness" are not only sinful in conduct; their dis-position is one of hatred and envy. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness bath blinded his eyes." (; 1 John 2:9-11.)

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another,--The verb "walk" here (ean peripatomen) is present active subjunctive, thus literally, "If we keep on walking in the light . . ." It must be a continuing walk. Moreover, we are to walk in the light in which the Father is. We are in the light only when fellowship with him obtains; and in this light must we remain. It is conditional whether we are in it, but such is his constant habitation. His dwelling is in "light unapproachable." (1 Timothy 6:16.) If the element of our daily walk is the same as God’s, "we have fellowship one with another." "Fellowship" (koinonia) is partnership, joint participation, com-munion. Thus only through fellowship with God is fellowship with the brethren possible. Fellowship with the brethren involves mutual assistance in all the difficulties of life; it includes the bear-ing of one another’s burdens (; Galatians 6:2), the sharing of all the sorrows and joys which constitute life. "And whether one mem-ber suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof." (1 Corinthians 12:26-27.)

And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. --This clause is coordinate with "we have fellowship one with an-other," and is a statement of the means by which it is possible for us to walk in the light. Thus, by walking in the light two results follow: (1) we have fellowship with each other; (2) the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Cleansing efficacy is thus attributed to the blood of Christ. Many important considerations follow from this passage: (a) It is not the mere example of Christ’s dying that accomplishes our salvation; (b) it is not simply the contemplation of his death which delivers us from the guilt of sin; (c) it is not belief in the moral implications of Calvary which pro-duces the blessing; nor (d) faith in the suffering of Christ on the cross. It is the blood, the shed blood of the Son of God, that cleanses us from sin. Moreover, it cleanses from sin, not merely or solely the conscience, but sin (amartias), all sin, whether of thought, word, or deed, rash sins, sins of ignorance, of malice, of omission or commission, sins of the flesh, sins of the disposition, sins of pleasure or of pain, sins of every type and kind committed at any time or place.

"Cleanseth" is from the verb katharizei, in the present tense, thus revealing that it is a constant process, conditioned on our walking in the light. As we thus walk the blood operates to keep us constantly cleansed from the defilement of sin and the condem-nation which attends it. This verse is an exceedingly significant and comprehensive one, in the light of the false doctrines which were in vogue when the Epistle appeared and which it was written to refute. Established beyond reasonable controversy are the following important propositions: (1) the reality of the body and blood of Jesus; (2) the sufferings which he experienced on the tree of the cross; (3) the efficacy of the blood which he shed.

Commentary on 1 John 1:5-7 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 1:5. The message which we (the apostles and others through them) have heard of him (the Son of God). The subject of the message is light, brought into the world by Christ which he received from his Father. God not only has light (spiritual truth) but He has nothing else; no darkness at all. Good men and angels have some light but it is limited, while with God it is light unmodified.

1 John 1:6. The Lord is all light and truth which is the opposite of darkness. For this reason no man can possibly be a partaker (have fellowship) with Him whose life is one of darkness which is a figurative name for that which is not the truth. Hence it is a logical conclusion that if a man claims to be on both sides of this proposition at the same time he is lying.

1 John 1:7. Walk in the light. No man lives who does not make some mistakes and commit sin incidentally. But this phrase means a man whose general life is one of godliness and whose motive principle is the light of the New Testament. This man can truly be said to be walking with the Lord because he is in the pathway that Jesus laid out for him. Being in the fellowship with God the source of all light, is like being constantly in the stream of the blood of His son. That blood is constantly flowing (figuratively) through the body or church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the natural body of a man whose blood stream is healthy, if germs slip into the person that blood, being always present, will be like a disinfectant that will destroy the germ. Likewise the blood of Christ is ever present to cleanse away the mistakes and incidental sins that a true Christian does. Hence if a man is a worker in the Lord’s vineyard and his life as a whole is one of obedience to the law of Christ, he does not need to worry about the mistakes he might make which he does not realize, for the blood of Christ will take care of it and wash them away. They will be cleansed by the "fountain opened to the house of David . . . for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1). "There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Im-manuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains."

Commentary on 1 John 1:5-7 by N.T. Caton

1 John 1:5—This then is the message.

The message we heard of the Lord, and the one we declared unto you, I now repeat in another form, and this I do because I have spoken to you of our fellowship with the Father and with the Son.

1 John 1:5 --God is light.

God is the source and the dispenser of light—all light, both physical and moral. God being the head of our fel­lowship and the source of all light, he is, therefore, the dispenser of all moral light. He is light absolutely. In him is no darkness at all, no evil, no mistake. Moral light is pos­sessed by him in infinite perfection. Bro. B. W. Johnson’s notes here are especially clear. He says: "The term denotes luminous, clearness, the free and benevolent source from whence flow light, intelligence, purity and blessing, abso­lutely free from alien intermixture, since in him is no darkness at all. Light represents truth, knowledge, holiness; darkness represents ignorance, error, falsehood and sin."

1 John 1:6—If we say that we have fellowship with him.

Should we claim to have fellowship with God, who is absolute light—light in infinite perfection—while we are walking in darkness—that is not doing right, not doing what we know God requires at our hands, acting wickedly; in so claiming we lie. This must be plain, and it is in accord­ance with the doctrine of the gospel, that if God is light and we walk not in the light, the fellowship is broken, we are not in accord, and we must be in accord with the will of God to have fellowship with him.

1 John 1:7 --But if we walk in the light.

If we claim fellowship with God while we walk in the light, we lie not. If we practice holiness in our lives because we are assured that God is holy, we thus keep before us the desire of the head of our fellowship, that all should be holy, as he is holy; then and in that case we do have fellow­ship with God and with one another; and also in that case the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for the remission of sins, shed as an atonement for sins, cleanses us from all sins. That is walking in the light all our days. At the last we need fear no punishment for sin; from this punishment we are delivered. We are fitted to have a fellowship or communion with our God in the heavenly world.

Commentary on 1 John 1:5-7 by Burton Coffman

1 John 1:5 --And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

It is not merely an abstract teaching with regard to the nature of God that John presented here (though some of that is in it). His general theme regarded the fellowship mentioned in the prologue; but as Roberts said, "John’s thoughts are not arranged logically and symmetrically."[23] The most practical organization of the next few verses lies in the arrangement of his thoughts around such words as "if we say," which are undeniably addressed to the prevailing errors he was exposing.

God is light ... Orr supposed that a similar grand pronouncement found in 1 John 3:11, introduced by words almost identical with the introductory clause here, might indicate that we have in the words "God is light" an actual saying of Jesus Christ repeated by him at various times.[24] He based this upon the fact that the statement in 1 John 3:11, that we should "love one another" was indeed an actual saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. It has the same authority either way. "To the Christians alone, God is revealed as light, absolutely free from everything material, impure, obscure or gloomy."[25] Light is a symbol of all that is lovely, beautiful, holy, good, desirable, righteous and lovable. To the pagans, God was hatred, vengeance and fear; to the ignorant, God was a God of darkness, an unknown Being to be propitiated, not a Person to be loved; to the philosopher, God was an abstraction, an idea, having no connection at all with man; to the Jew, God was a God that hideth himself and a consuming fire.

However, John had a practical reason behind this statement about God. "The apostle intended that his words should emphasize the difference between the light which God is and purely intellectual enlightenment, so-called,"[26] which was claimed by the philosophical pretenders who were disturbing the church, and which even today has by no means disappeared from the earth.

In high is no darkness at all ... Darkness, contrasting with light, is a symbol of all that is wicked, ignorant, gloomy, shameful, depraved and perverted. Paul described the deeds of the wicked as the "works of darkness." And there are several kinds of darkness. Plummer cited "physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual darkness."[27] Note too that John did not say that there is no darkness in God’s presence, but that there is no darkness "in him."

Now this verse has its application to the problem of fellowship because the false teachers were walking in a moral darkness of the worst intensity, while at the same time claiming to be "in God." The impossibility of their pretensions having any merit was proved by this very first sentence of the message proper. It is preposterous for one to claim fellowship with God while walking in darkness.

The message which we have heard from him ... Commentators have difficulty deciding on who is the antecedent of "him," since both the Father and the Son Jesus Christ were mentioned together in 1 John 1:3. To one with John’s exalted view of Christ, this was no problem. He most likely referred to the personal instruction which he and the other apostles had received from Christ himself.

[23] Ibid., p. 28.

[24] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 609.

[25] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 4.

[26] James William Russell, op. cit., p. 597.

[27] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 4.

1 John 1:6 --If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

In this verse, the apostle made the application of his remarks in the verse preceding. Smith identified the false teachers refuted by this as "the Nicolaitans who held to the heresy of antinomianism."[28] John did not honor their heresy nor the names of any of its advocates with any identification whatever. Plummer thought that the heresy in view was that of the "Carpocratian Gnostics, who taught that to the enlightened all actions are indifferent, because neither impurity nor filth Can change the nature of pure gold."[29]

And do not the truth ... This is changed in the RSV to "do not live according to the truth," but Morris assured us that the ASV is the correct rendition.[30] This very statement is found in John 3:21 and in the Qumran scrolls. "Truth can be a quality of action as well as of speech."[31]

The false claim in this verse is that of affirming that we walk with God even while we are walking in darkness. "Walk" in this passage, as frequently in the New Testament, is an idiom for the totality of human conduct.

[28] David Smith, op. cit., p. 171.

[29] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 4.

[30] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1261.

[31] Ibid.

1 John 1:7 --but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin

If we walk in the light ... When the light from God, as revealed in Christ Jesus and the preaching of the apostles, is entered and walked in by the Christians, "Walking in the light shows up their sins and frailties, revealing the need for constant cleansing."[32]

Roberts pointed out that John’s teaching here "implies that only the sinless can have fellowship with a sinless God," adding that this involves a contradiction between our own "admitted sinfulness and the affirmation that we do have fellowship with God (1 John 1:3)."[33] Roberts resolved the "contradiction" in the considerations of: (1) Christ’s propitiation for our sins; (2) the cleansing action in view in this verse; and (3) the intercession on our behalf of Jesus Christ our advocate. Here indeed is the achievement of that absolute perfection required of all who hope to enter heaven, as announced by Jesus Christ in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:48). The whole doctrine of Perfection requires a great deal more attention to it than is evident in current Christian literature. For a further study of it, see in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 130-133. For those who walk in the light, the continual, ceaseless and effective cleansing through the blood of Christ is the means of their continuing in a state of absolute perfection. This cleansing, however, is not necessarily automatic. "It is based upon confession, penitence, renewal (1 John 1:9), and keeping his commandments (1 John 2:3)."[34] Even beyond this, however, the cleansing effect of Jesus’ blood is operative unconditionally in instances of the believer’s unawareness of sins that lie hidden from himself.

Fellowship one with another ... Although not stated in this sentence, this fellowship is also with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 3). This fellowship stands for membership in the corporate spiritual body of Jesus Christ. Thus the cleansing here mentioned is not that from "old sins" prior to conversion, but from the accrual of sins daily by the Christian.

The blood of Jesus his Son ... All forgiveness for mortals, in the last analysis, derives from this source. John’s mention of it so early in the epistle shows the high priority of this fundamental truth.

Cleanseth us from all sin ... "The singular sin sometimes denotes the principle of sin, but this cannot be the meaning here. All sin means `every act of sin.’"[35]

This great verse is the source of incredible joy, assurance and consolation to the child of God. He never needs to fear that some impulsive, unintentional, or atypical conduct might overtake him with the result of eternal condemnation. His walking "in the light" can be established by the long term directional thrust of his whole life upon earth and cannot be contradicted and negated by any temporary or insignificant lapse.

[32] Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1007.

[33] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 31.

[34] Ibid., p. 32.

[35] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1262.

Verses 8-10

1Jn 1:8-10

SIN AND ITS FORGIVENESS

(1 John 1:8-10)

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.--Inasmuch as there is no article before the word "sin" in this passage, it is contemplated in essence, ab-stractly considered. These words were penned to refute the pre-vailing notion of the heretics--and some to this day advocate the same view--that it is possible for one to live above sin. Those who so affirm (a) deceive themselves, and (b) exhibit the fact that the truth is not in them. Because of the weakness of the flesh and the ever-present problem of temptation, even the best of peo-ple inadvertently sin, and hence have need of the cleansing power inherent in the blood of Jesus. Aware of such, John was shortly to write: "My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1.)

Those who deny that they have sin, add to the sin they already have, and sin in so affirming! The ever-present problem of sin is adduced by the apostle as the reason why children of God must have the cleansing power of the blood applied. This clearly refutes the notion that men have lived, or may live in this life, without sin. The truth is not in those who so allege. It may be around them or near them, but it is not in them; it does not constitute a part of their character. These to whom John wrote had been forgiven of their past or alien sins; thus reference here is not to any previous state of guilt prior to conversion, but to present sin, sin at the time he wrote, sins of omission and commission, sins of the flesh and of the disposition, all sin, any sin of which we may be guilty. The recognition and confession of sin is a prerequisite to our approval before God. To refuse such recognition and confession is simply to deceive ourselves and to demonstrate the fact that the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. --The phrase, "If we say . . .," a mere formal admission of guilt (1 John 1:8), becomes here "If we confess . . .," a much more vivid concept. One may indeed "say" (eipon) that he has sin without experiencing any deep or abiding sense of guilt or wrong and without being moved to repentance. The confession (homologe) here contemplated is a humble acknowledgment of wrong, a peni-tent attitude essential to forgiveness. The word homologeo, from which the word "confess" is translated, means to say the same thing, to speak together, and figuratively implies a dialogue be-tween God and the sinner, in which the Father describes the con-dition of the sinner, and the sinner finally accedes to the correct-ness of the description and thus confesses that God is right!

The word "sin" of 1 John 1:8, an abstract concept of wrong, be-comes "sins," individual and specific acts of wrong-doing in verse 9. It follows, therefore, that the sins we are to confess are the specific and particular manifestations of the sin which all sincere believers of the Word know in their hearts they possess.

The verb "confess" is translated from a present active subjunctive, thus literally, "If we keep on confessing our sins . . .," indicative of a continuous process. There are two definite and specific types of confession required of the erring in the New Testament (1) confession before the Father, as here (2) acknowledgement of sins before others, as in James 5:16. It is scarcely necessary to add that an additional confession before a priest on the pretext that such a one can absolve sins is wholly unknown to the New Testament, is contrary to the teaching of the scriptures, and inimical to the genius and character of the Christian religion. With Jesus as our Priest, Mediator, and Advocate, we need no other assistance in approaching the Throne of Grace. (Heb. 7:25; 10 19, 20; 1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5.)

If we keep on confessing our sins, God "is faithful and righteeous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Faithfulness" and "righteousness" are attributes of the great Jehovah; and when we confess our sins before him, we enter into and partake of the blessings which result from them.

He has promised to forgive us on condition that we confess our sins; and since he is faithful, he will not fail in the performance of his promises. David joined these attributes in Psalms 143:1 "Hear my prayer, O Jehovah; give ear to my supplications; in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness." It is God’s nature to be faithful and righteous, and it is his purpose to cleanse when the conditions--confession and penitence--are met. "Unrighteousness," the opposite of "righteousness," is synony-mous with the word sin, of 1 John 1:8. Wrong-doing is set forth under various aspects in the scriptures. A collection of terms in-dicative of its different qualities occurs in Exodus 34:7.

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.--Compare 1 John 1:8. Here, again, there is an advance in thought, as in 1 John 1:8-9. The "if we say we have no sin" (abstractly considered) becomes here, "If we say that we have not sinned . . ." (have not been guilty of specific and concrete acts of sin).

Verse 10 designates specific acts of sin; in verse 8 sin is regarded as a state or condition. Those who insist that they have not sinned make God a "liar" and demon-strate the fact that God’s word is not in them. Much emphasis is given here to the fact and reality of sin in the lives of us all. Those who deny this lie (1 John 1:6) deceive themselves (1 John 1:8) make God a liar (1 John 1:10). Taught here, in the most emphatic fashion possible, is the constant and recurring need of pardon on the part of all children of God. Not only is such essential to the alien sinner in order that he may be adopted into the fellowship of God; he must continue to seek it and avail himself of its benefits throughout life. As sin is evermore about us, and, alas, all too often in us, we must continually seek new pardons through the means hereinbefore set forth. This section of the Epistle, far from teaching that the Lord forgave us of all sins, "past, present, and future," as the advocates of the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy allege, establishes the fact of an ever-present need of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Happily we have the assurance that "the blood of Jesus his Son keeps on cleansing us from all sin" (1 John 1:7) as we conform to the conditions on which such depends.

Those who deny the fact of sin in their lives make God a liar by contradicting his express statements of man’s sinfulness before him, and they demonstrate the fact that the truth is not in them by exhibiting ignorance of the truth in their allegation.

Commentary on 1 John 1:8-10 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 1:8. This verse does not contradict the preceding one or the comments made on it. To say we have no sin would be like saying we do not have any need for the blood of Christ. Hence even a faithful disciple should admit his weaknesses and understand his dependence upon the blood of Christ for his cleansing.

1 John 1:9. Confess our sins. This does not say that we are to confess that we have sins for that would be so general that it would be virtually no confession at all; the sins themselves is what we are to confess. Sometimes persons will come forward in a meeting saying they wish to make a confession, and when given the opportunity will say, "I have not been living as I should." That does not confess any sin as our verse requires. It may be replied that David made that sort of confession to the prophet because all lie said was, "I have sinned." That is true but it was after his sin had been pointed out so that his statement was an acknowledgment of the specific sin. It was like the action of a jury that says, "We find the defendant guilty as charged" without naming any particular misdeed. If a disciple does not know of anything wrong he has done then he has none to confess. Should he have some faults of which he is not aware, verse 7 of this chapter will take care of them. If he has committed sins which only he and the Lord know about, then he needs only to make his confession to Him. Faithful and just. The first word means He will keep his promise to forgive the sins of the penitent, and it is just for Him to do so since the sacrifice of Christ makes it possible for God to be merciful and just at the same time (Romans 3:26).

1 John 1:10. Have not sinned differs from have no sin in verse 8 because it goes back over the past of our lives. When the two are considered together they mean that there never has been a time since we were old enough to be responsible. that we were "as free from sin as the angels" as it is sometimes expressed; hence man has needed a Saviour all the years of his life. Make him. a liar. If a person makes an assertion that contradicts what another has said, it is equivalent to calling him a liar even though no direct reference is made to him. God has said in his word that all men are sinners (Ecclesiastes 7:20), therefore if a man says he has not sinned he contradicts the Lord and that is why John says such a man will make him a liar. His word is not in us because that word declares that all men have sinned.

Commentary on 1 John 1:8-10 by N.T. Caton

1 John 1:8—If we say that we have no sin.

We can not, however, claim that we have reached a sinless state in this life. Should we so claim we deceive our­selves and possess no knowledge whatever of the truth on that subject, as taught by Christ and his disciples. The Nicolaitans in the days of John, the writer of this Epistle, made this claim. They claimed that they could do no wrong, and hence indulged in all sorts of excesses, and yet they were promptly repudiated by the Master. (Revelation 2:6.) All along the ages and in our own day there are those who, in one way or another, and to one extent or another, make the claim that they have attained to a state in which they sin not. Now the language of the apostle is in direct opposition to this claim.

1 John 1:9—If we confess our sins.

Since it is that while we are in this life we are liable to sin, be it known to you brethren, that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins if we confess to him. Admitting our sins and our firm determination to forsake them, God will pardon. We obtain this pardon through the blood of Christ, coming to God in penitence. Note carefully, the con­fession of sins must be made by the sinning one directly to God. Since the pardon comes from him, the confession must be made to him, exhibiting at the time of such confession the other requisites indicative of true penitence. True penitence is followed, as a matter of course, by a reforma­tion in the matter wherein the sin occurred.

1 John 1:10—If we say that we have not sinned.

We attempt to make God a liar when we say we have not sinned. This will appear evident to every mind when we reflect that on this subject God has spoken. He has said: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "They are all gone aside; they are alto­gether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalms 14:3). Or, as this Psalm is quoted by the apostle Paul: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Romans 3:10-12). Thus, God has spoken by his servants, and should we in the face of these declarations declare our sinlessness, we make God a liar and his word is not in us. We must observe that the verses 8, 9 and 10 are addressed to and intended for Christians, and the impression is intended by the Apostle John, to be left indelibly upon their minds, their constant dependence upon God; their great necessity for God’s pardoning mercy day by day. The alien is elsewhere taught how to obtain the pardon of his sins, and become, by adoption, a member of God’s family and an heir of eternal life. But the apostle, in the ninth verse of this chapter, points out the law of pardon to the erring Christian. These distinctions kept in mind, all is plain.

Commentary on 1 John 1:8-10 by Burton Coffman

1 John 1:8 --If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we say that we have no sin ... This is the second false claim John refuted, the first being that of 1 John 1:6. Here the error is that of claiming inherent sinlessness, perfection, the absence of any need of cleansing through the blood of Christ. Such a claim is capable of deceiving the claimant, but not anyone else! Despite the effrontery of such a proposition, entire religions are founded upon just such claims. "There is no sin" - this is the proposition that underlies a great deal of current thinking. See under 1 John 1:9. Scott and others have supposed that John might also have had in mind "the Gnostic subtlety that sin was a matter of the flesh and did not touch or defile the spirit."[36]

If we say ... is an expression of remarkable interest, because the apostle here identified himself with the false teachers, not through any agreement with them, but out of a delicate regard for his readers. This identification of an apostle with those addressed is prevalent in the New Testament. Hebrews 2:3 is a remarkable example of the same thing; and yet that instance of it has been perverted to mean that no first generation Christian could have written that epistle!

Some have pointed out that the need for John’s teaching here resulted from the most audacious immorality advocated, indulged, and rationalized by heretics such as Valentinus. Irenaeus has a description of such views, which although later associated with the heretic whose name was given to the error, nevertheless existed early in the first century.

They hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual by nature. It is impossible that spiritual substance (and by this they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions they indulged. For as gold submersed in filth, loses not on that account its beauty, but retains its own native qualities, filth having no power to injure gold, so they affirm that they cannot in any measure suffer hurt, or lose their spiritual substance, whatever the material actions in which they may be involved.[37]

This ancient heresy exists today in a much more sophisticated form in what is heralded as salvation "by faith alone," which has exactly the same meaning as salvation "not by means of conduct."

Man’s presumptuous blindness in denying the existence of sin, either as a principle, or as existent within himself, is self-deception at its worst. The Lord’s Prayer which enjoined the petitions for daily bread and forgiveness, both assumed and implied the need of daily prayers for forgiveness. "Woe to that soul that presumes to think that he can approach God in any other way than as a sinner asking mercy."[38]

[36] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 77.

[37] Iraeneus, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, On Heresies I, 6,2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d.), p. 324.

[38] David Smith, op. cit., p. 172.

1 John 1:9--If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins ... To whom shall sins be confessed? Certainly, the usual concept of a confessional in a church, where confession is a one-way street, is not what is meant here. Macknight paraphrased this: "If we confess our sins to God with a firm resolution to forsake them, etc." In any confession to other Christians, a mutual confession of sins "to one another" would be the requirement.

Even the confession of sins by Christians to each other is a practice that can be very unrewarding and hurtful. Currently, there are outcroppings of a practice among fervidly religious groups of holding confessionals in which the most sensual and reprehensible conduct is unreservedly reported openly and publicly within such groups. In such a context, that is bragging about sins, not confessing them; and it cannot be possible that John had any such thing in mind. There are no New Testament examples of a religious service being built around any such orgy of self-revelation. Confessions of sins "one to another" among Christians means an admission of guilt where it exists as a barrier to their fellowship, a mutual sharing of blame, and a restoration of the broken harmony.

It is difficult for man’s ego to admit blame and guilt, society as a whole being hardly capable of any such admission. More and more, the trend is to deny sin exists. Drunkards have merely contracted an unfortunate disease, alcoholism! Adulterers and philanderers are schizophrenic! Thieves, murderers, outlaws, etc. are not criminals at all, but anti-social, a state induced by society itself. Sinful behavior is not that at all, but the natural response to one’s heredity, environment, deprivation or other things beyond the sinner’s control. The apostolic word for all such thinking is "self-deception."

Our sins ... It is not the principle of sin merely that is to be acknowledged but the plurality of sins. This has been misunderstood as meaning "all of our sins publicly"; but no such meaning is in it. Rather the need for acknowledging and confessing sin again, and again, as multiple occasions arise requiring it, is the true meaning. The right course is not repetitious confessions of all the sins one can remember, but the admission of sin on the successive occasions when the believer stumbles. If this is done, the aggregate is "confessing our sins," no less than the indulgence of such things as the group confessionals mentioned above.

(God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins ... It is a false view that construes this as meaning that God would not be just and righteous if he did not forgive us wicked sinners! God does not prove his righteousness by forgiving sinners, who in any just frame of reference must be accounted as worthy of eternal death. No, that is not what John meant. Roberts has the truth thus: "He is faithful in that he will not go back on the promise he made in Christ Jesus."[39] Scott also has a wonderful word on this: "He is faithful to forgive us because he has promised to do so, and just because his Son died for our sins."[40] In the forgiveness of Christians of their sins and his continual cleansing them from such sins, God displays loyalty to the sacred covenant he himself established. Furthermore, the theoretical grounds, the rational basis, upon which it is just for God to forgive sins is established in the Person and sacrifice of the Son of God. God may justly forgive us, because Christ paid the penalty that was due. The justice of God in allowing our participation in the benefits of that sacrifice is vindicated and proved by the manner of incorporating those to be forgiven into the spiritual body of Christ, and then justifying them, not in their own sinful identities, but as Christ and in Christ.

[39] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 35.

[40] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 77.

1 John 1:10 --If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

If we say ... These repeated expressions (1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10) indicate the principal stream of the apostle’s thought in this section. He is still dealing with evil heresies that had encroached upon the Christian fellowship.

If we say that we have not sinned ... This is the most blatant and offensive of all the false theories. "To go to the length of denying past sin and present guilt, is not only to becloud ourselves with sophistry but to give the lie to God himself."[41] God gave his only begotten Son upon the cross that man might be saved from sin, a salvation that was impossible for any man apart from God’s redeeming act. If man had not been sinful and utterly helpless to achieve salvation for himself, all of the heavenly outpouring of God’s merciful visitation in the person of his Son was unnecessary; the crucifixion was a useless murder; and every promise of the gospel is essentially a lie. John’s language here is certainly not too strong. People who deny their need of redemption from sin, through the pretense of not ever having sinned, are of all people most guilty and contemptible. "To say that we have not sinned is not just to tell a deliberate lie, or to be self-deceived, but actually to accuse God of lying, to make him a liar."[42]

His word is not in us ... Characteristic of John’s writings is his use of such words as "word" and "truth" to stand for the whole body of gospel teaching. Moreover, "the truth" or "the word" in John’s view was not some indefinite and nebulous goal pursued by the Christians seeking to know it; it was something which they already knew, already had, already walked in, already obeyed. The reference, of course, is to the basic gospel of the New Testament which is perfect, complete, final, and sufficient. It is not to be added to nor taken from. Such is the Johannine conception of the message which he and other apostles delivered to people that they might be saved.

[41] Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 225.

[42] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 79.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 John 1". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/1-john-1.html.
 
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