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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Vincent's Word StudiesVincent's Studies

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Verse 1

Whosoever believeth [πας ο πιστευων] . Lit., every one that believeth. For the characteristic form of expression see on 3 3. The Christ. See on Matthew 1:1, and 1 John 1:7.

Verse 2

By this [εν τουτω] . Not by this or from this, as an inference (see on 4 6), but in the very exercise of the sentiment toward God, we perceive. When (grov). More strictly, whenever. Our perception of the existence of love to our brethren is developed on every occasion when we exercise love and obedience toward God.

Keep [τηρωμεν] . Read poiwmen do. So Rev. See on John 3:21; 1 John 3:4. The exact phrase poiein tav ejntolav to do the commandments, occurs only here. See on Revelation 22:14.

Verse 3

Grievous [βαρειαι] . Lit., heavy. The word occurs six times in the New Testament. Acts 20:29, violent, rapacious; "grievous wolves" : 2 Corinthians 10:10, weighty, impressive, of Paul 's letters : Matthew 23:23; Acts 25:7, important, serious; the weightier matters of the law; serious charges against Paul.

Verse 4

Overcometh [νικα] . See on 2 13.

The victory [η νικη] . Only here in the New Testament.

That overcometh [η νικησασα] . The aorist tense, overcame. On the cumulative form of expression, the victory, that which overcame, see on 4 9. The aorist is to be held here to its strict sense. The victory over the world was, potentially, won when we believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. We overcome the world by being brought into union with Christ. On becoming as He is (iii. 17) we become partakers of His victory (John 16:33). "Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world" (iv. 4).

Our faith [πιστις ημων] . Pistiv faith, only here in John's Epistles and not in the Gospel. Our faith is embraced in the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. On the question of the subjective and objective use of the faith, see on Acts 6:7.

Verse 5

He that overcometh [ο νικων] . The article with the participle denoting what is habitual; one who leads a life of victory over the world.

Verse 6

This. Jesus.

He that came [ο ελθων] . Referring to the historic fact. See Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:19; John 1:15, John 1:27. Compare, for the form of expression, John 1:33; John 3:13.

By water and blood [δι υδατος και αιματος] . Dia by, must be taken with oJ ejlqwn He that came. It has not merey the sense of accompaniment, but also of instrumentality, i e., by, through, by means of. Water and blood are thus the media through which Jesus the Mediator wrought, and which especially characterized the coming. See especially Hebrews 9:12 : "Christ being come... neither by the blood [δι αιματος] of goats and calves, but by His own blood [δια δε του ιδιου αιματος " ] . Compare" we walk by faith not by sight (dia pistewv ouj dia eidouv, "2 Corinthians 5:7) : we wait with (lit., through) patience (dij uJpomonhv," Romans 8:25).

Water refers to Christ 's baptism at the beginning of His Messianic work, through which He declared His purpose to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Blood refers to His bloody death upon the cross for the sin of the world.

Other explanations are substituted for this or combined with it. Some refer the words water and blood to the incident in John 19:34. To this it is justly objected that these words are evidently chosen to describe something characteristic of Christ 's Messianic office, which could not be said of the incident in question. Nevertheless, as Alford justly remarks, "to deny all such allusion seems against probability. The apostle could hardly, both here and in that place, lay such evident stress on the water and the blood together, without having in his mind some link connecting this place and that." The readers of the Epistle must have been familiar with the incident, from oral or from written teaching.

Others refer the words to the Christian sacraments. These, however, as Huther observes, are only the means for the appropriation of Christ 's atonement; whereas the subject here is the accomplishment of the atonement itself. Ai=ma blood, standing by itself, never signifies the Lord 's Supper in the New Testament.

The true principle of interpretation appears to be laid down in the two canons of Dusterdieck. (1.) Water and blood must point both to some purely historical facts in the life of our Lord on earth, and to some still present witnesses for Christ. (2.) They must not be interpreted symbolically, but understood of something so real and powerful, as that by them God 's testimony is given to believers, and eternal life assured to them. Thus the sacramental reference, though secondary, need not be excluded. Canon Westcott finds "an extension of the meaning" of water and blood in the following words : "Not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood," followed by the reference to the present witness of the Spirit. He argues that the change of the prepositions (ejn in, for dia by), the use of the article [τω] , and the stress laid on actual experience (it is the Spirit that witnesseth), these, together with the fact that that which was spoken of in its unity (by water and blood) is now spoken of in its separate parts (in the water and in the blood) - "all show that St. John is speaking of a continuation of the first coming under some new but analogous form. The first proof of the Messiahship of Jesus lay in His complete historical fulfillment of Messiah 's work once for all, in bringing purification and salvation; that proof is continued in the experience of the Church in its two separate parts." Thus we are led to the ideas underlying the two sacraments.

The subject opened by the word blood is too large for discussion within these limits. The student is referred to Dr. Patrick Fairbairn's "Typology of Scripture;" Andrew Jukes, "The Law of the Offerings;" Professor William Milligan, "The Resurrection of our Lord," note, p. 274 sqq.; Canon Westcott's "Additional Note" on 1 John 1:7, in his "Commentary on John's Epistles;" and Henry Clay Trumbull, "The Blood Covenant."

Not by water only [ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον] . Lit., not in the water only Rev., with. The preposition ejn in, marks the sphere or element in which; dia by, the medium through which. For the interchange of ejn and dia see 2 Corinthians 6:7. The words are probably directed against the teaching of Cerinthus. See on 2 22. John asserts that Jesus is the Christ, and that He came by blood as well as by water.

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness [και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν] . Lit., and the Spirit is that which is bearing witness. Note the present tense, beareth witness, and compare ver. 9, hath born witness. The witness is present and continuous in the Church, in the sacraments for instance, in water and in blood. Witnessing is the peculiar office of the Spirit. See John 14:26; John 16:8 sqq. See on John 1:7.

Because [οτι] . Some render that, as presenting the substance of the testimony, which is absurd : the Spirit witnesseth that the Spirit is the truth. The Spirit is the Holy Ghost, not the spiritual life in man.

The truth [η αληθεια] . Just as Christ is the truth (John 14:6).

Verse 7

There are three that bear record [τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες] . Lit., three are the witnessing ones.

The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. These words are rejected by the general verdict of critical authorities. For the details of the memorable controversy on the passage, the student may consult Frederick Henry Scrivener, "Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament;" Samuel P. Tregelles, "An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament;" John Selby Watson, "The Life of Richard Porson, M. A.;" Professor Ezra Abbot, "Orme's Memoir of the Controversy on 1 John 5:7;" Charles Foster, "A New Plea for the Authenticity of the Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses," or "Porson's Letters to Travis Eclectically Examined," Cambridge, 1867. On the last - named work, Scrivener remarks, "I would fain call it a success if I could with truth. To rebut much of Porson's insolent sophistry was easy, to maintain the genuineness of this passage is simply impossible." Tregelles gives a list of more than fifty volumes, pamphlets, or critical notices on this question. Porson, in the conclusion of his letters to Travis, says : "In short, if this verse be really genuine, notwithstanding its absence from all the visible Greek manuscripts except two (that of Dublin and the forged one found at Berlin), one of which awkwardly translates the verse from the Latin, and the other transcribes it from a printed book; notwithstanding its absence from all the versions except the Vulgate, even from many of the best and oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate; notwithstanding the deep and dead silence of all the Greek writers down to the thirteenth, and of most of the Latins down to the middle of the eighth century; if, in spite of all these objections, it be still genuine, no part of Scripture whatsoever can be proved either spurious or genuine; and Satan has been permitted for many centuries miraculously to banish the 'finest passage in the New Testament, ' as Martin calls it, from the eyes and memories of almost all the Christian authors, translators, and transcribers."

Verse 8

Agree in one [εις το εν εισιν] . Lit., are for the one. They converge upon the one truth, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh.

Verse 9

If we receive [ει λαμβανομεν] . The indicative mood, assuming such reception as a fact. If we receive, as we do. On the verb receive, see on John 3:32.

The witness of God is greater. Supply mentally, and therefore we should receive that.

For [οτι] . Not explaining why it is greater, but why the principle of the superior greatness of divine testimony should apply and be appealed to in this case. Supply mentally, and this applies in the case before us, for, etc. This is the witness of God which [ην] . The best texts read oti that or because. Render that. This is the witness of God, even the fact that, etc.

Verse 10

On the Son of God. Faith in the person of Christ, not merely in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.

God. Also personal. To believe God, is to believe the message which comes from Him. See on John 1:12.

Hath made - hath believed [πρποιηκεν - πεπιστευκεν] . The perfect tense marks the two results expressed by the verbs as connected with a past act. The act perpetuates itself in the present condition of the unbeliever.

Believed on the witness [πεπιστευκεν εις την μαρτυριαν] . The phrase occurs only here. See on John 1:12. In one other case to believe on is used with an object not directly personal, pisteuete eijv to fwv; but the reference is clearly to the personal Christ as the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Verse 11

Hath given [εδωκεν] . The aorist tense, gave. So Rev. The reference is to the historic fact of the gift. So 1 John 3:23 : "We should love one another as He gave [εδωκεν] us commandment." Ver 24 "We know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He gave [εδωκεν] us." On the other hand, 1 John 3:1 : "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed [δεδωκεν] upon us." The gift of love abides in the fact that we are now children of God (ver. 2).

Eternal life [ζωην αιωνιον] . Compare the phrase thn zwhn thn aijwnion the life, the eternal life (i. 2), and hJ aijwniov zwh the eternal life (John 17:3). For the distinction between the phrases see on 1 2. The phrase here, without either article, merely defines the character of the life.

Verse 12

Hath life [εχει την ζωην] . More strictly, as Rev., the life; i e., the life which God gave (ver. 11). See on John 16:22. Compare Christ who is our life (Colossians 3:4).

The Son of God. Hath the Son, hath not the Son of God, pointing back to God as the giver of life in His Son. Bengel observes : "The verse has two clauses : in the former, of God is not added, because believers know the Son; in the other it is added, that unbelievers may know at length how serious it is not to have Him."

Hath not life. Note the inversion "He that hath the Son hath the life. He that hath not the Son of God, the life hath he not."

Verse 13

Have I written [εγραψα] . Lit., I wrote. John speaks as looking back over his Epistle and recalling the aim with which he wrote. See on 2 13. May know [ειδητε] . Not perceive [γινωσκειν] , but know with settled and absolute knowledge. See on John 2:24.

Ye have eternal life [ζωην εχετε αιωνιον] . The Greek order is peculiar, "ye may know that life ye have eternal." The adjective eternal is added as an after - thought. So Westcott : "that ye have life - yes, eternal life."

Unto you that believe. In the A. V., these words follow have I written. The Rev. follows the Greek order. The words, like eternal, above, are added as an after - thought, defining the character of the persons addressed. On the name [εις το ονομα] . See on John 2:23; John 1:12.

Verse 14

Confidence [παρρησια] . Rev., boldness. See on 2 28; John 7:13. On have boldness, see on John 16:22.

We ask [αιτωμεθα] . With a possible reference in the middle voice to asking for ourselves.

According to His will [κατα το θελημα αυτου] . For the phrase compare 1 Peter 4:19; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11.

He heareth us [ακουει ημων] . Compare John 9:31; John 11:41, John 11:42. Hear is used in this sense by John only.

Verse 15

Whatsoever we ask. The whole phrase is governed by the verb hear. If we know that He heareth our every petition.

Verse 16

If any man see [εαν τις ιδη] . A supposed case.

His brother. Christian brother.

Sin a sin [αμαρτανοντα αμαρτιαν] . Lit., as Rev., sinning a sin. There is no exact parallel to the phrase in the New Testament. Compare the promise which He promised, 1 John 2:25.

Not unto death [μη προς θανατον] . Describing the nature of the sin. The preposition unto, signifies tendency toward, not necessarily involving death. See on ver. 17.

He shall ask [αιτησει] . In prayer. The future tense expresses not merely permission (it shall be permitted him to ask), but the certainty that, as a Christian brother, he will ask. An injunction to that effect is implied. He shall give. He may refer either to God or to the petitioner, as being the means of bestowing life through his intercession, as in James 5:20. The former explanation is the more natural. So Rev.

Him [αυτω] . The brother for whom intercession is made.

For them that sin [τοις αμαρτανουσιν] . In apposition with aujtw to him. God shall give life unto him (the erring brother), even unto them that sin. The plural generalizes the particular ease described by aJmartanonta aJmartian sinning a sin.

There is a sin [εστιν αμαρτια] . Rev., margin, better, sin. A sin would express a specific act as such. Sin describes the character of a class of acts. Unto death. The difficulty of the passage lies in the explanation of these words. It is impossible to determine their exact meaning with certainty. Some of the many explanations are as follows : Such sin as God punishes with deadly sickness or sudden death. All those sins punished with excommunication (so the older Catholic theologians). An unrepented sin. Envy. A sinful state or condition. The sin by which the Christian falls back from Christian life into death. The anti - Christian denial that Jesus is the Christ.

The phrase labein aJmartian qanhtoforon to incur a death - bearing sin (A. 5, bear sin and die), occurs Numbers 18:22, Sept., and the distinction between sins unto death and sins not unto death is common in Rabbinic writings. However John's expression may have been suggested by these, it cannot be assumed that they determine the sense in which he uses it. Life and death in the passage must correspond. Bodily death and spiritual life cannot be meant. The passage must be interpreted in the light of John's utterances elsewhere concerning life and death. In ver. 12, he says : He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. In 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:15, he says that he that loveth not abideth in death : that he that hateth his brother is a manslayer, and that no manslayer hath eternal life abiding in him. These canons of interpretation point to the explanation, in which some of the best authorities agree, that the sin unto death does not refer to a specific act, but to a class or species of sins, the tendency of which is to cut the bond of fellowship with Christ. Hence the passage is in the key - note of fellowship which pervades the Epistle. Whatever breaks the fellowship between the soul and Christ, and, by consequence, between the individual and the body of believers, is unto death, for there is no life apart from Christ. It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made, as Canon Westcott observes, between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God. "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death." It must be carefully born in mind in the study of the passage, that John is speaking of sinful acts as revelations of character, and not simply in themselves. So Huther : "Such sinning as is characterized, not by the object with which it is connected, but by the disposition from which it proceeds." 68 I do not say that he shall pray for it [ου περι εκεινης λεγω ινα ερωτηση] . Lit., not concerning this do I say that he should make request. So Rev. Prayer even for this sin unto death is not forbidden, but John says that he does not enjoin it. Note the sharp distinctness with which that terrible sin is thrown out by the pronoun of remote reference and its emphatic position in the sentence. Note also the words make request [ερωτηση] , and compare aijtnsei he shall ask. On the distinction, see on Luke 11:9. Aijtew to ask, is used of the petition of an inferior, and is never used of Christ 's own requests to God. Hence it is properly used here of the humble and affectionate petition of a Christian to God on behalf of a sinning brother. Erwtaw is used of the request of an equal, or of one who asks on equal terms. Hence it may mark a request based upon fellowship with God through Christ, or it may hint at an element of presumption in a prayer for a sin unto death. Westcott cites a very early inscription in the Roman Catacombs as an illustration of the use of ejrwtan in the sense of Christian prayer for Christians : ejrwta uJper hJmwn pray for us.

Verse 17

Unrighteousness [αδικια] . This is the character of every offense against that which is right. Every breach of duty is a manifestation of sin. Compare 1 John 3:4, where sin is defined as ajnomia lawlessness, and lawlessness as sin. See Romans 6:13.

Verse 18

We know [οιδαμεν] . John uses this appeal to knowledge in two forms : we know (2 Timothy 2:14; 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, 1 John 5:20); ye know (ii. 20; 1 John 3:5, 1 John 3:15). He that is begotten of God [ο γεννηθεις εκ του θεου] . Lit., was begotten. This exact phrase does not occur elsewhere. Some refer it to the man who is born of God, making it parallel with oJ gegennhmenov ejk tou Qeou, he that is begotten of God. Others to Christ, the only - begotten of God. The later is preferable.

That wicked one [ο πονηρος] . See on 2 13. Rev., the evil one.

Toucheth [απτεται] . See on John 20:17, the only other passage in John's writings where the verb occurs. Both this verb and qigganw (Colossians 2:21; Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 12:20) express a touch which exerts a modifying influence upon the object, though qigganw indicates rather a superficial touch. On yhlafaw (Acts 27:27; Hebrews 12:18; 1 John 1:1), see on Luke 24:39. Compare Colossians 2:21. The idea here is layeth not hold of him.

Verse 19

We are of God [εκ του θεου εσμεν] . For the phrase ei=nai ejk to be from, see on John 1:46. For ejsmen we are, see on 3 1. John expresses the relation of believers to God by the following phrases : To be born or begotten of God, gennhqhnai ejk tou Qeou (v. 1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:7) : denoting the initial communication of the new life. To be of God, ei=nai ejk tou Qeou (John 8:47; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 4:6) : denoting the essential connection in virtue of the new life. Child of God, teknon Qeou (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:10) : denoting the relation established by the new life.

World [κοσμος] . See on John 1:9.

Lieth [κειται] . The word is stronger than ejsti is, indicating the passive, unprogressive state in the sphere of Satan 's influence. "While we are from God, implying a birth and a proceeding forth, and a change of state, the kosmov the world, all the rest of mankind, remains in the hand of the evil one" (Alford).

In wickedness [εν τω πονηρω] . Rev., better, in the evil one. The expression to lie in has a parallel in Sophocles' "Anti - gone :" ejn uJmin gar wJv Qew keimeqa tlamonev "Wretched we lie in you as in a God" (247).

Verse 20

An understanding [διανοιαν] . Only here in John's writings. The faculty of understanding. See on Luke 1:51. Westcott remarks that nouns which express intellectual powers are rare in the writings of John. We may know [γινωσκομεν] . Apprehend progressively. Compare John 17:3.

Him that is true [τον αληθινον] . Compare Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:14; Revelation 6:10. On true, see on John 1:9. "God very strangely condescends indeed in making things plain to me, actually assuming for the time the form of a man, that I at my poor level may better see Him. This is my opportunity to know Him. This incarnation is God making Himself accessible to human thought - God opening to man the possibility of correspondence through Jesus Christ. And this correspondence and this environment are those I seek. He Himself assures me, 'This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. ' Do I not now discern the deeper meaning in Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent? Do I not better understand with what vision and rapture the profoundest of the disciples exclaims, 'The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we might know Him that is true?'" (Drummond, " Natural Law in the Spiritual World ").

This. God the Father. Many, however, refer it to the Son.

Eternal life. See on 1 2. 69

Verse 21

Keep yourselves [φυλαξατε εαυτα] . The exact phrase is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. See 2 Peter 3:17. Rev., rightly, guard. See on 1 Peter 1:4.

Idols [ειδωλων] . Strictly, images. The command, however, has apparently the wider Pauline sense, to guard against everything which occupies the place due to God.

Bibliographical Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/vnt/1-john-5.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.
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