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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies

1 John 3

Verse 1

Behold ( ἴδετε )

Lit., behold ye. The plural is peculiar. The usual form is the singular ἴδε or ἰδού . See John 1:29; John 11:3, etc.; John 4:35; John 19:26, John 19:27. Elsewhere the plural is used of something actually visible (Galatians 6:11).

What manner of ( ποταπὴν )

The word is of infrequent occurrence in the New Testament, but is found in all the Synoptists and in 2 Peter 3:11. Only here in John's writings. Originally it means from what country or race; then, of what sort or quality. It is used of the quality of both persons and things.

Hath bestowed ( δέδωκεν )

Emphasizing the endowment of the receiver. Compare χαρίζομαι , from χάρις gracefavor, which emphasizes the goodwill of the giver. See Galatians 3:18; Philippians 2:9; Philippians 1:29.

That ( ἵνα )

See on John 15:13.

We should be called ( κληθῶμεν )

Or, named. As Matthew 2:23; Matthew 21:13; Luke 1:13, Luke 1:31, etc. The verb is never used by John of the divine call. In John 10:3, for καλεῖ callethread φωνεῖ .

The sons ( τέκνα )

Rev., better, children. See on John 1:12.

And such we are ( καὶ ἐσμεν )

Lit., and we are. Added by Rev., according to the best texts. A parenthetical, reflective comment, characteristic of John. See on 1 John 1:2.


Verse 2


See 1 John 2:7.

Now are we and, etc.

The two thoughts of the present and the future condition of God's children are placed side by side with the simple copula, and, as parts of one thought. Christian condition, now and eternally, centers in the fact of being children of God. In that fact lies the germ of all the possibilities of eternal life.

It doth not yet appear ( οὔπω ἐφανερώθη )

Rev., more correctly, it is not yet made manifest. See on John 21:1. The force of the aorist tense is, was never manifested on any occasion.

What we shall be ( τί ἐσόμεθα )

“This what suggests something unspeakable, contained in the likeness of God” (Bengel).

But we know

Omit but.

When He shall appear ( ἐὰν φανερωθῇ )

Rev., correctly, if He (or it ) shall be manifested. We may render either “if it shall be manifested,” that is what we shall be; or, “if He,” etc. The preceding ἐφανερώθη itis (not yet) made manifest, must, I think, decide us in favor of the rendering it. We are now children of God. It has not been revealed what we shall be, and therefore we do not know. In the absence of such revelation, we know (through our consciousness of childship, through His promise that we shall behold His glory), that if what we shall be were manifested, the essential fact of the glorified condition thus revealed will be likeness to the Lord. This fact we know now as a promise, as a general truth of our future state. The condition of realizing the fact is the manifestation of that glorified state, the revealing of the τί ἐσόμεθα whatwe shall be; for that manifestation will bring with it the open vision of the Lord. When the what we shall be shall be manifest, it will bring us face to face with Him, and we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.

As He is ( καθώς ἐστιν )

Strictly, just as. Rev., even as.

“As long as the festivity

Of Paradise shall be, so long our love

Shall radiate round about us such a vesture.

Its brightness is proportioned to the ardor,

The ardor to the vision; and the vision

Equals what grace it has above its worth.

Dante, “Paradiso,” iv., 37-42.

Verse 3

Every man that hath ( πᾶς ὁ ἔχων )

A characteristic form of expression with John, containing “a reference to some who had questioned the application of a general principle in particular cases.” Here to some persons who had denied the practical obligation to moral purity involved in their hope. See 1 John 3:4, 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:15, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:18; 2 John 1:9.


John's only reference to Christian hope. The phrase used here, to have the hope upon one, is unique in the New Testament. Compare ἐπ ' αὐτῷ ἔθνη ἐλπιοῦσιν on Him shall the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12): ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ Θεῷ ζῶντι “we have hoped on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). On the force of ἔχων , see on John 16:22.

In Him ( ἐπ ' αὐτῷ )

Ambiguous. Better, as Rev., set on Him.

Purifieth himself ( ἁγνίζει ἑαυτόν )

On the verb, see on 1 Peter 1:22; see on James 4:8. In the Septuagint used only of ceremonial purification, and so four out of the seven instances in which it occurs in the New Testament (John 11:55; Acts 21:24, Acts 21:26; Acts 24:18). In the remaining cases, of purifying the heart and the soul (James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22). The kindred adjective ἁγνός purehas a moral signification in every case, as has the noun ἁγότης pureness(only 2 Corinthians 6:6). Ἁγνισμός purification(only Acts 21:26), ceremonial.

He ( ἐκεῖνος )

Christ, as always in the Epistle.

Pure ( ἁγνός )

See above. Though marking moral and spiritual purity, and that of a very high grade, since it is applied to Christ here, yet it admits the thought of possible temptation or pollution, thus differing from ἅγιος , which means absolutely holy. Hence ἁγνός cannot properly be applied to God, who is ἅγιος ; but both may be used of Christ, the latter in virtue of His human perfection.

Verse 4

Whosoever committeth sin ( πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν )

Rev., better, every one that doeth sin. See on 1 John 3:3, every man that hath, and note the frequent repetition of this form of expression in the present chapter. Compare πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων whosoeversinneth (1 John 3:6). The phrase to do sin regards sin as something actually realized in its completeness. He that does sin realizes in action the sin (note the article τὴν ) that which includes and represents the complete ideal of sin. Compare do righteousness, 1 John 2:29.

Transgresseth also the law ( καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ )

Rev., more accurately, doeth also lawlessness. Compare Matthew 13:41, and the phrase οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομίαν yethat work iniquity (Matthew 7:23).

For ( καὶ )

Rev., correctly, and. This and the preceding clause are coordinated after John's manner.

Is the transgression of the law ( ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία )

Rev., correctly, is lawlessness. Sin is the violation of the law of our being, the law which includes our threefold relation to God, to the men and things around us, and to ourselves. Compare James 1:14; James 4:17.

Verse 5

Ye know

John's characteristic appeal to Christian knowledge. Compare 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:21; 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:14, 1 John 4:16; 1 John 5:15, 1 John 5:18; 3 John 1:12.

He ( ἐκεῖνος )

Christ, as always in this Epistle. See on John 1:18.

Was manifested

See on John 21:1. Including Christ's whole life on earth and its consequences. The idea of manifestation here assumes the fact of a previous being. John various terms to describe the incarnation. He conceives it with reference to the Father, as a sending, a mission. Hence ὁ πέμψας με Hethat sent me (John 4:34; John 6:38; John 9:4; John 12:44, etc.): ὁ πέμψας με πατήρ theFather that sent me (John 5:37; John 8:18; John 12:49, etc.): with the verb ἀποστέλλω tosend as an envoy, with a commission; God sent ( ἀπέστειλεν ) His Son (John 3:17; John 10:36; 1 John 4:10; compare John 6:57; John 7:29; John 17:18). With reference to the Son, as a coming, regarded as a historic fact and as an abiding fact. As a historic event, He came ( ἧλθεν , John 1:11); this is He that came ( ὁ ἐλθὼν , 1 John 5:6). Came forth ( ἐξῆλθον ; John 8:42; John 16:27, John 16:28; John 17:8). As something abiding in its effects, am come, hath come, is come, marked by the perfect tense: Light is come ( ἐλήλυθεν , John 3:19). Jesus Christ is come ( ἐληλυθότα , 1 John 4:2). Compare John 5:43; John 12:46; John 18:37). In two instances with ἥκω Iam come, John 8:42; 1 John 5:20. Or with the present tense, as describing a coming realized at the moment: whence I come ( ἔρχομαι , John 8:14); compare John 14:3, John 14:18, John 14:28; also Jesus Christ coming ( ἐρχόμενον , 2 John 1:7). With reference to the form: in flesh ( σάρξ ). See John 1:14; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7. With reference to men, Christ was manifested (1 John 1:2; 1 John 3:5, 1 John 3:8; John 1:31; John 21:1, John 21:14).

To take away ( ἵνα ἄρῃ )

See on John 1:29.

Our sins ( τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν )

Omit ἡυῶν ourCompare John 1:29, τὴν ἁμαρτίαν , the sin. The plural here regards all that is contained in the inclusive term the sin: all manifestations or realizations of sin.

In Him is no sin ( ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν )

Lit., in Him sin is not. He is essentially and forever without sin. Compare John 7:18.

Verse 6


Compare John 15:4-10. To abide in Christ is more than to be in Him, since it represents a condition maintained by communion with God and by the habitual doing of His will. See on 1 John 2:6.

Sinneth not

John does not teach that believers do not sin, but is speaking of a character, a habit. Throughout the Epistle he deals with the ideal reality of life in God, in which the love of God and sin exclude each other as light and darkness.

Seen - known

The vision of Christ and the appropriation of what is seen. Rev., correctly, knoweth.

Verse 7

Little children

See on 1 John 2:1.

Deceive ( πλανάτω )

Rev., better, lead astray. See on 1 John 1:8.

Doeth righteousness

See on 1 John 3:4, and compare 1 John 2:29. Note the article τὴν , the righteousness, in its completeness and unity. Not merely doing righteous acts. “In his relation to other men he will do what is just; and in his relation to the gods he will do what is holy; and he who does what is just and holy cannot be other than just and holy” (Plato, “Gorgias,” 507).

Verse 8

The Devil

See on 1 John 2:13. Compare John 8:44. “The devil made no one, he begot no one, he created no one; but whosoever imitates the devil, is, as it were, a child of the devil, through imitating, not through being born of him” (Augustine).


The present tense indicates continuousness. He sinned in the beginning, and has never ceased to sin from the beginning, and still sinneth.

The Son of God

For the first time in the Epistle. Hitherto the title has been the Son, or His Son. See on 1 John 1:7.

Might destroy ( λύσῃ )

Lit., dissolve, loosen. Compare Acts 27:41; Acts 13:43. “The works of the devil are represented as having a certain consistency and coherence. They show a kind of solid front. But Christ, by His coming, has revealed them in their complete unsubstantiality. He has 'undone' the seeming bonds by which they were held together” (Westcott).

Verse 9

Whosoever is born ( πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος )

On the form of expression, see on 1 John 3:4. Rev., begotten. The perfect participle indicates a condition remaining from the first: he who hath been begotten and remains God's child.

His seed

The divine principle of life.


See on 1 John 3:6. Conceived as a perfect ideal, life in God excludes the possibility of sin. Compare Romans 4 throughout.

Verse 10

In this ( ἐν τούτῳ )

See on 1 John 2:3.

Children of the devil ( τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου )

The only occurrence of the phrase. Compare Acts 13:10, and see John 8:44.


Here the article is wanting, compare 1 John 3:7. Righteousness is regarded, not in its completeness, but as bearing a particular character. It will be interesting to follow out the same distinction between the following words with and without the article: ἀμαρτία sin ἀγάπη love ζωή life ἀλήθεια truthi0.

Verse 11

From the beginning

See on 1 John 1:1.

That ( ἵνα )

The purport and aim of the message. See on John 15:13.

Verse 12

Cain who was ( Κάΐ́ν ἧν )

Who is not in the Greek. The construction is irregular. Lit., as Rev., not as Cain was of the evil one.

Slew ( ἔσφαξεν )

The verb occurs only in John, and only here outside of Revelation. Originally, to slay by cutting the throat; so in Homer, of cattle:

“the suitor train who slay ( σφάζουσι )

His flocks and slow-paced beeves with crooked horns.”

Odyssey,” i., 92.

To slaughter victims for sacrifice:

“Backward they turned the necks of the fat beeves,

And cut their throats ( ἕσφαζαν ), and flayed the carcasses.”

Iliad,” i., 459.

Thence, generally, to slay or kill.

Wherefore ( χάριν τίνος )

Lit., on account of what. Χάριν forthe sake of, on account of, is elsewhere placed after the genitive. See Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 3:14; 1 Timothy 5:14; Galatians 3:19.

Verse 13

Brethren ( ἀδελφοί )

The only occurrence of this mode of address in the Epistle.

Hate ( μισεῖ )

Indicative mood, pointing to the fact as existing: if the world hate you, as it does.

Verse 14

We know

Emphatic; we as distinguished from the world.

Have passed ( μεατβεβήκαμεν )

Lit., have passed over.

From death ( ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου )

Lit., out of the death. The article marks it as one of the two spheres in which men must be; death or life. The death, the life, present one of those sharp oppositions which are characteristic of the Epistle; as love, hatred; darkness, light; truth, a lie. Ὁ θάνατος thedeath, occurs in John's Epistles only here and in the next clause. In the Gospel, only John 5:24. Personified in Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 9:6; Revelation 20:13.

Unto life ( εἰς τὴν ζωήν )

Rev., better, into. Compare enter into the life, Matthew 28:8; Matthew 19:17.


The sign of having passed into life; not the ground.

We love the brethren ( ἀγαπῶμεν του,ς ἀδελφούς )

The only occurrence of the phrase. Elsewhere, love one another, or love his brother. See on 1 John 2:9.

His brother


Verse 15

Murderer ( ἀθρωποκτόνος )

Manslayer. Only here and John 8:44, of the devil.

Hath eternal life, etc.

The contrast is suggestive between the sentiment embodied in this statement and that of Pagan antiquity respecting murder, in the Homeric age, for instance. “With regard to the practice of homicide, the ordinary Greek morality was extremely loose … . Among the Greeks, to have killed a man was considered in the light of misfortune, or, at most, a prudential error, when the perpetrator of the act had come among strangers as a fugitive for protection and hospitality. On the spot, therefore, where the crime occurred, it could stand only as in the nature of a private and civil wrong, and the fine payable was regarded, not (which it might have been) as a mode, however defective, of marking any guilt in the culprit, but as, on the whole, an equitable satisfaction to the wounded feelings of the relatives and friends, or as an actual compensation for the lost services of the dead man. The religion of the age takes no notice of the act whatever” (Gladstone “Homer and the Homeric Age,” ii., 436).

Verse 16

Hereby ( ἐν τοίτῳ )

See on 1 John 2:3.

Perceive ( ἐγνώκαμεν )

Rev., correctly, know.

The love

Omit the italics of A.V., of God, and render as Rev., hereby know we love.

Laid down His life ( τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν )

See on John 10:11.

We ought ( ὀφείλομεν )

See on 1 John 2:6.

Verse 17

This world's good ( τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου )

Rev., the worlds goods. Βίος meansthat by which life is sustained, resources, wealth.

Seeth ( θεωρῇ )

Deliberately contemplates. See on John 1:18. Rev., beholdeth. The only occurrence of the verb in John's Epistles.

Have need ( χρείαν ἔχοντα )

Lit., having need. Rev., in need.

Bowels of compassion ( τὰ σπλάγχνα )

See on pitiful, 1 Peter 3:8. Rev., much better, his compassion. The word only here in John.

Verse 19

Shall assure ( πείσομεν )

Two renderings are possible; the primitive meaning persuade (Acts 19:26; Acts 17:4; 2 Corinthians 5:11); or the secondary and consequent sense, assure, quiet, conciliate (Matthew 28:14). Render as A.V., and Rev. as sure. See critical note at the end of the commentary on this Epistle.

Before Him ( ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ )

Emphatic, the order being, before Him we shall assure our heart. These words are to be kept in mind as the key-note of what follows.

Verse 20

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater, etc.

A very difficult passage. See critical note as above. Render, as Rev., shall assure our heart before Him whereinsoever our heart condemn us, because God is greater than our heart.

For ( ὅτι )

To be rendered not as a conjunction (for, because ) but as a relative, in whatsoever or whereinsoever.

Condemn ( καταγινώσκῃ )

The word occurs only three times in the New Testament; here, 1 John 3:21, and Galatians 2:11. It signifies (1.) To note accurately, usually in a bad sense. Hence to detect (Proverbs 28:11); compare Aristophanes: “Having observed ( καταγνοὺς ) the foibles of the old man” (“Knights,” 46). To form an unfavorable prejudice against. So Herodotus. Datis says to the Delians, “Why are ye fled, O holy men, having judged me ( καταγνόντες κατ ' ἐμεῦ ) in so unfriendly a way?” (vi., 97). (2.) To note judicially: to accuse: to accuse one's self. So Thucydides: “No one, when venturing on a perilous enterprise, ever yet passed a sentence of failure on himself ” ( καταγνοὺς ἑαυτοῦ μὴ περιέσεσθαι ; iii., 45). To give sentence, or condemn. To condemn to death. “Those who had fled they condemned to death” ( θάνατον καταγνόντες ; Thucydides, vi., 60). To decide a suit against one. So Aristophanes: “You judges have no maintenance if you will not decide against ( καταγνώσεσθε ) this suit” (“Knights,” 1360). In Galatians 2:11, it is said of Peter that, because of his concessions to the Jewish ritualists, κατεγνωσμένος ἦν hestood condemned or self-condemned (not as A.V., he was to be blamed ). His conduct was its own condemnation. This is the sense in this passage, the internal judgment of conscience.

Because ( ὅτι )

This second ὅτι does not appear in the A.V. It is a conjunction.

Greater ( μείζων )

Is this superior greatness to be regarded as related to God's judgment, or to His compassion? If to His judgment, the sense is: God who is greater than our heart and knows all things, must not only endorse but emphasize our self-accusation. If our heart condemn, how much more God, who is greater than our heart. If to His compassion, the sense is: when our heart condemns us we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are in the hands of a God who is greater than our heart - who surpasses man in love and compassion no less than in knowledge. This latter sense better suits the whole drift of the discussion. See critical note. There is a play of the words γινώσκει knowethand καταγινώσκῃ condemnethwhich is untranslatable.

Verse 21


The affectionate address is suggested by the preceding thought of tormenting self-accusation.

Confidence ( παῤῥησίαν )

Rev., boldness. See on 1 John 2:28.

Verse 22

We ask ( αἰτῶμεν )

See on Luke 11:9.

We receive of Him ( λαμβάνομεν ἀπ ' αὐτοῦ )

On the form of expression, see on 1 John 1:5. For the thought, compare John 15:7.

We keep ( τηροῦμεν )

See on 1 Peter 1:5. Note the combination of keep and do. Watchful discernment and habitual practice. Compare Psalm 123:2. The same combination occurs 1 John 5:2, 1 John 5:3, where instead of the first τηρῶμεν keepread ποιῶμεν doPleasing ( ἀρεστά )

See John 8:29.

In His sight ( ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ )

Compare ἕμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ beforeHim, or in His presence (1 John 3:19). In His sight “accentuates the thought of the divine regard. Compare John 7:37and John 20:30” (Westcott).

Verse 23

Believe on the name ( πιστεύσωμεν τῷ ὀνόματι )

See on John 1:12; see on 1 John 1:7.

Verse 24

Abideth in Him and He in Him

“Therefore let God be a home to thee, and be thou the home of God: abide in God, and let God abide in thee” (Bede).


The first mention of the Spirit in the Epistle. Never found with Holy in the Epistles or Revelation.

Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.