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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

Beloved (αγαπητο). Three times in this chapter (1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11) we have this tender address on love.

Believe not every spirit (μη παντ πνευματ πιστευετε). "Stop believing," as some were clearly carried away by the spirits of error rampant among them, both Docetic and Cerinthian Gnostics. Credulity means gullibility and some believers fall easy victims to the latest fads in spiritualistic humbuggery.

Prove the spirits (δοκιμαζετε τα πνευματα). Put them to the acid test of truth as the metallurgist does his metals. If it stands the test like a coin, it is acceptable (δοκιμος, 2 Corinthians 10:18), otherwise it is rejected (αδοκιμος, 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7).

Many false prophets (πολλο ψευδοπροφητα). Jesus had warned people against them (Matthew 7:15), even when they as false Christs work portents (Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). It is an old story (Luke 6:26) and recurs again and again (Acts 13:6; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10) along with false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

Are gone out (εξεληλυθασιν). Perfect active indicative of εξερχομα. Cf. aorist in 1 John 2:19. They are abroad always.

Verse 2

Hereby know ye (εν τουτω γινωσκετε). Either present active indicative or imperative. The test of "the Spirit of God" (το πνευμα του θεου) here alone in this Epistle, save verse 1 John 4:13. With the clamour of voices then and now this is important. The test (εν τουτω, as in 1 John 3:19) follows.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (Ιησουν Χριστον εν σαρκ εληλυθοτα). The correct text (perfect active participle predicate accusative), not the infinitive (εληλυθενα, B Vg). The predicate participle (see John 9:22 for predicate accusative with ομολογεω) describes Jesus as already come in the flesh (his actual humanity, not a phantom body as the Docetic Gnostics held). See this same idiom in 2 John 1:7 with ερχομενον (coming). A like test is proposed by Paul for confessing the deity of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:3 and for the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus in Romans 10:6-10.

Verse 3

Confesseth not (μη ομολογε). Indefinite relative clause with the subjective negative μη rather than the usual objective negative ου (verse 1 John 4:6). It is seen also in 2 Peter 1:9; Titus 1:11, a survival of the literary construction (Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 171). The Vulgate (along with Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine) reads solvit (λυε) instead of μη ομολογε, which means "separates Jesus," apparently an allusion to the Cerinthian heresy (distinction between Jesus and Christ) as the clause before refers to the Docetic heresy. Many MSS. have here also εν σαρκ εληλυθοτα repeated from preceding clause, but not A B Vg Cop. and not genuine.

The spirit of the antichrist (το του αντιχριστου). Πνευμα (spirit) not expressed, but clearly implied by the neuter singular article to. It is a repetition of the point about antichrists made in 1 John 2:18-25.

Whereof (ο). Accusative of person (grammatical neuter referring to πνευμα) with ακουω along with accusative of the thing (οτ ερχετα, as in 1 John 2:18, futuristic present middle indicative). Here the perfect active indicative (ακηκοατε), while in 1 John 2:18 the aorist (ηκουσατε).

And now already (κα νυν ηδη). As in 1 John 2:18 also (many have come). "The prophecy had found fulfilment before the Church had looked for it" (Westcott). It is often so. For ηδη see John 4:35; John 9:27.

Verse 4

Have overcome them (νενικηκατε αυτους). Perfect active indicative of νικαω, calm confidence of final victory as in 1 John 2:13; John 16:33. The reference in αυτους (them) is to the false prophets in 1 John 4:1.

Because (οτ). The reason for the victory lies in God, who abides in them (1 John 3:20; 1 John 3:24; John 14:20; John 15:4). God is greater than Satan, "he that is in the world" (ο εν τω κοσμω), the prince of this world (John 12:31; John 14:30), the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), powerful as he seems.

Verse 5

Of the world (εκ του κοσμου). As Jesus is not and as the disciples are not (John 17:14).

As of the world (εκ του κοσμου). No "as" (ως), but that is the idea, for their talk proceeds from the world and wins a ready hearing. The false prophets and the world are in perfect unison.

Verse 6

We (ημεις). In sharp contrast with the false prophets and the world. We are in tune with the Infinite God. Hence "he that knoweth God" (ο γινωσκων τον θεον, present active articular participle, the one who keeps on getting acquainted with God, growing in his knowledge of God) "hears us" (ακουε ημων). This is one reason why sermons are dull (some actually are, others so to dull hearers) or inspiring. There is a touch of mysticism here, to be sure, but the heart of Christianity is mysticism (spiritual contact with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit). John states the same idea negatively by a relative clause parallel with the preceding articular participle, the negative with both clauses. John had felt the cold, indifferent, and hostile stare of the worldling as he preached Jesus.

By this (εκ τουτου). "From this," deduction drawn from the preceding; only example in the Epistle for the common εν τουτω as in 1 John 4:2. The power of recognition (γινωσκομεν, we know by personal experience) belongs to all believers (Westcott). There is no reason for Christians being duped by "the spirit of error" (το πνευμα της πλανης), here alone in the N.T., though we have πνευμασιν πλανοις (misleading spirits) in 1 Timothy 4:1. Rejection of the truth may be due also to our not speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Verse 7

Of God (εκ του θεου). Even human love comes from God, "a reflection of something in the Divine nature itself" (Brooke). John repeats the old commandment of 1 John 2:7. Persistence in loving (present tense αγαπωμεν indicative and αγαπων participle) is proof that one "has been begotten of God" (εκ του θεου γεγεννητα as in 1 John 2:29) and is acquainted with God. Otherwise mere claim to loving God accompanied by hating one's brother is a lie (1 John 2:9-11).

Verse 8

He that loveth not (ο μη αγαπων). Present active articular participle of αγαπαω "keeps on not loving."

Knoweth not God (ουκ εγνω τον θεον). Timeless aorist active indicative of γινωσκω, has no acquaintance with God, never did get acquainted with him.

God is love (ο θεος αγαπη εστιν). Anarthrous predicate, not η αγαπη. John does not say that love is God, but only that God is love. The two terms are not interchangeable. God is also light (1 John 1:5) and spirit (John 4:24).

Verse 9

Was manifested (εφανερωθη). First aorist passive indicative of φανεροω. The Incarnation as in 1 John 3:5. Subjective genitive as in 1 John 2:5.

In us (εν ημιν). In our case, not "among us" nor "to us." Cf. Galatians 1:16.

Hath sent (απεσταλκεν). Perfect active indicative of αποστελλω, as again in verse 1 John 4:14, the permanent mission of the Son, though in verse 1 John 4:10 the aorist απεστειλεν occurs for the single event. See John 3:16 for this great idea.

His only-begotten Son (τον υιον αυτου τον μονογενη). "His Son the only-begotten" as in John 3:16. John applies μονογενης to Jesus alone (John 1:14; John 1:18), but Luke (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38) to others. Jesus alone completely reproduces the nature and character of God (Brooke).

That we might live through him (ινα ζησωμεν δι' αυτου). Purpose clause with ινα and the first aorist (ingressive, get life) active subjunctive of ζαω. "Through him" is through Christ, who is the life (John 14:6). Christ also lives in us (Galatians 2:20). This life begins here and now.

Verse 10

Not that (ουχ οτ)

--but that (αλλ' οτ). Sharp contrast as in John 7:22; 2 Corinthians 7:9; Philippians 4:17.

We loved (ηγαπησαμεν). First aorist active indicative, but B reads ηγαπηκαμεν (perfect active, we have loved).

He (αυτος). Emphatic nominative (God).

To be the propitiation (ιλασμον). Merely predicate accusative in apposition with υιον (Son). For the word see 1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25 for ιλαστηριον, and for περ see also 1 John 2:2.

Verse 11

If God so loved us (ε ουτως ο θεος ηγαπησεν ημας). Condition of first class with ε and the first aorist active indicative. As in John 3:16, so here ουτως emphasises the manifestation of God's love both in its manner and in its extent (Romans 8:32).

Ought (οφειλομεν). As in 1 John 2:6. Noblesse oblige. "Keep on loving," (αγαπαιν) as in 1 John 3:11.

Verse 12

No one hath beheld God at any time (θεον ουδεις πωποτε τεθεατα). Perfect middle indicative of θεαομα (John 1:14). Almost the very words of John 1:18 θεον ουδεις πωποτε εωρακεν (instead of τεθεατα).

If we love one another (εαν αγαπωμεν αλληλους). Third-class condition with εαν and the present active subjunctive, "if we keep on loving one another."

God abideth in us (ο θεος εν ημιν μενε). Else we cannot go on loving one another.

His love (η αγαπη αυτου). More than merely subjective or objective (1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:9). "Mutual love is a sign of the indwelling of God in men" (Brooke).

Is perfected (τετελειωμενη εστιν). Periphrastic (see usual form τετελειωτα in 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:17) perfect passive indicative of τελειοω (cf. 1 John 1:4). See verse 1 John 4:18 for "perfect love."

Verse 13

Hereby know we (εν τουτω γινωσκομεν). The Christian's consciousness of the fact of God dwelling in him is due to the Spirit of God whom God has given (δεδωκεν, perfect active indicative here, though the aorist εδωκεν in 1 John 3:24). This gift of God is proof of our fellowship with God.

Verse 14

We have beheld (τεθεαμεθα). Perfect middle of θεαομα as in verse 1 John 4:12, though the aorist in 1 John 1:1; John 1:14 (εθεασαμεθα). John is qualified to bear witness (μαρτυρουμεν as in 1 John 1:2) as Jesus had charged the disciples to do (Acts 1:8).

Hath sent (απεσταλκεν). As in verse 1 John 4:9, though απεστειλεν in verse 1 John 4:10.

To be the Saviour of the world (σωτηρα του κοσμου). Predicate accusative of σωτηρ (Saviour), like ιλασμον in verse 1 John 4:10. This very phrase occurs elsewhere only in John 4:42 as the confession of the Samaritans, but the idea is in John 3:17.

Verse 15

Whosoever shall confess (ος εαν ομολογηση). Indefinite relative clause with modal εαν (=an) and the first aorist active subjunctive, "whoever confesses." See 1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:2 for ομολογεω.

That (οτ). Object clause (indirect assertion) after ομολογεω. This confession of the deity of Jesus Christ implies surrender and obedience also, not mere lip service (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:6-12). This confession is proof (if genuine) of the fellowship with God (1 John 1:3; 1 John 3:24).

Verse 16

We know (εγνωκαμεν). Perfect active indicative, "we have come to know and still know" as in John 6:9, only there order is changed (πεπιστευκαμεν coming before εγνωκαμεν). Confession (ομολογεω) follows experimental knowledge (γινωσκω) and confident trust (πιστευω). Believers are the sphere (εν ημιν, in our case) in which the love of God operates (Westcott). See John 13:35 for "having love."

God is love (ο θεος αγαπη εστιν). Repeated from verse 1 John 4:8. So he gathers up the whole argument that one who is abiding in love is abiding in God and shows that God is abiding in him. Thoroughly Johannine style.

Verse 17

Herein (εν τουτω). It is not clear whether the ινα clause (sub-final use) is in apposition with εν τουτω as in John 15:8 or the οτ clause (because) with the ινα clause as parenthesis. Either makes sense. Westcott argues for the latter idea, which is reinforced by the preceding sentence.

With us (μεθ' ημων). Construed with the verb τετελειωτα (is perfected). In contrast to εν ημιν (verses 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:16), emphasising cooperation. "God works with man" (Westcott). For boldness (παρρησιαν) in the day of judgment (only here with both articles, but often with no articles as in 2 Peter 2:9) see 1 John 2:28.

As he is (καθως εκεινος εστιν). That is Christ as in 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:3; 1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:16. Same tense (present) as in 1 John 3:7. "Love is a heavenly visitant" (David Smith). We are in this world to manifest Christ.

Verse 18

Fear (φοβος). Like a bond-slave (Romans 8:15), not the reverence of a son (ευλαβεια, Hebrews 5:7) or the obedience to a father (εν φοβω, 1 Peter 1:17). This kind of dread is the opposite of παρρησια (boldness).

Perfect love (η τελεια αγαπη). There is such a thing, perfect because it has been perfected (verses 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:17). Cf. James 1:4.

Casteth out fear (εξω βαλλε τον φοβον). "Drives fear out" so that it does not exist in real love. See εκβαλλω εξω in John 6:37; John 9:34; John 12:31; John 15:6 to turn out-of-doors, a powerful metaphor. Perfect love harbours no suspicion and no dread (1 John 4:1).

Hath punishment (κολασιν εχε). Old word, in N.T. only here and Matthew 25:46. Τιμωρια has only the idea of penalty, κολασις has also that of discipline, while παιδεια has that of chastisement (Hebrews 12:7). The one who still dreads (φοβουμενος) has not been made perfect in love (ου τετελειωτα). Bengel graphically describes different types of men: "sine timore et amore; cum timore sine amore; cum timore et amore; sine timore cum amore."

Verse 19

He first (αυτος πρωτος). Note πρωτος (nominative), not πρωτον, as in John 20:4; John 20:8. God loved us

before we loved him (John 3:16). Our love is in response to his love for us. Αγαπωμεν is indicative (we love), not subjunctive (let us love) of the same form. There is no object expressed here.

Verse 20

If a man say (εαν τις ειπη). Condition of third class with εαν and second aorist active subjunctive. Suppose one say. Cf. 1 John 1:6.

I love God (Αγαπω τον θεον). Quoting an imaginary disputant as in 1 John 2:4.

And hateth (κα μισε). Continuation of the same condition with εαν and the present active subjunctive, "and keep on hating." See 1 John 2:9; 1 John 3:15 for use of μισεω (hate) with αδελφος (brother). A liar (ψευστης). Blunt and to the point as in 1 John 1:10; 1 John 2:4.

That loveth not (ο μη αγαπων). "The one who does not keep on loving" (present active negative articular participle).

Hath seen (εωρακεν). Perfect active indicative of οραω, the form in John 1:18 used of seeing God.

Cannot love (ου δυνατα αγαπαιν). "Is not able to go on loving," with which compare 1 John 2:9, ου δυνατα αμαρτανειν (is not able to go on sinning). The best MSS. do not have πως (how) here.

Verse 21

That (ινα). Sub-final object clause in apposition with εντολην as in John 13:34; John 15:13.

From him (απ' αυτου). Either God or Christ. See Mark 12:29-31 for this old commandment (1 John 2:7).

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/1-john-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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