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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 1

1.] And who is our brother? and why does this name carry with it such an obligation to love? These questions, in closest connexion with the last verse, the Apostle answers in this. Every one that believeth (not as Grot. “qui credere se ostendit:” it is the faith itself which is spoken of) that Jesus is the Christ hath been begotten of God (to whom do these words apply? from what follows, in which the γεγέννηται is taken up by τὸν γεγεννημένον, to the brother whom we are to love as a necessary accompaniment of our loving God. But most Commentators, including Lücke, De Wette, Huther, Düsterd., assume that it is of ourselves that this is said: our birth of God depends on and is in closest union with our faith, ch. 1 John 3:23-24. Then the connexion between this and the following clause must be made by filling up an ellipsis, “and if born of God we love God.” But this is far-fetched and, as has been above shewn implicitly, alien from the context, the object of which is to point out who those are whom we are bound to love if we love God. Then having made this predication of all the children of God, πᾶς ὁ πιστ. κ. τ. λ., he, as so frequently, takes it up again below, 1 John 5:4, with a more general reference, and dwells on our faith as the principle which overcomes the world: see there): and every one who loveth him that begot (these words take up again the ἐάν τις εἴπῃ ὅτι ἀγαπῶ τὸν θεόν, of ch. 1 John 4:20), loveth also him that is begotten of him (viz. the brother of whom the former clause spoke: not, as Aug(74), Hil(75), Corn.-a-lap., al., Christ, the Son of God. As Calvin, “sub numero singulari omnes fideles designat. Est enim argumentum ex communi naturæ ordine sumptum”).


Verse 2

2.] And indeed so inseparable are the two, that as before, ch. 1 John 4:20, our love to our brethren was made a sign and necessary condition of our love to God, so conversely, our love to God, ascertained by our keeping His commandments, is itself the measure of our love to the children of God. Either of the two being found to be present, the presence of the other follows. In this we know that we love the children of God ( τὰ τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ takes up again τὸν γεγεννημένον ἐξ αὐτοῦ of the preceding verse) when (the indefiniteness in ὅταν is to be taken not within the limits of each case, “whensoever we,” but as belonging to the cases collectively, “in every case where”) we love God, and do His commandments (this adjunct is made, as the following verse shews, in order to introduce an equivalent to ἀγαπῶμεν τ. θεόν by which its presence may be judged. It will be seen from what has been said, that all the devices which have been used to extract from this verse a sense different from that which it really conveys, are wholly unneeded, nay, out of place. Such are those of some of the ancient versions: “per hoc cognoscimus quod diligimus Deum, si dileximus Eum et fecimus mandatum ejus,” æth: “per hoc cognoscimus nos esse Dei filios quum Deum dilexerimus,” &c. arab: of Œc., who seems to be confused in his account, for after citing the words he says, καὶ δεῖγμα τῆς εἰς θεὸν ἀγάπης τὴν εἰς ἀδελφὸν ἀγάπην τίθεται: of Grotius, who says, “facilis fit connexio si trajectio fiat, qualem ego libenter facerem, si librum aliquem veterem haberem auctorem, ἐν τ. γινώσκ. ὅτι τ. θεὸν ἀγ., ὅταν ἀγ. τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ κ. τ. ἐντολὰς αὐτ. τηρ:” that of anon. in Schulz, Konject. ub. d. N. T., who wanted to transpose ὅτι and ὅταν: that of Rosenmüller, who coolly says, “permutantur h. l. significationes particularum ὅτι et ὅταν, quod contextus necessario postulat”).


Verse 3

3.] For (explaining the connexion of the two preceding clauses) the love of God is this (consists in this: αὕτη, as the demonstrative pronoun, in all such sentences, being the predicate), that ( ἵνα introduces the apodosis to αὕτη as in ch. 1 John 4:17, where see note) we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not grievous (the reason, why they are not grievous, is given in the next verse. Almost all the Commentators refer to Matthew 11:30, ὁ ζυγός μου χρηστός, κ. τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν. Œc., however, al., repudiate this reference, but apparently on account of the form of expression; observing that the Apostle has said not ἐλαφραὶ εἰσίν, but βαρεῖαι οὐκ εἰσίν; but the comment of Œc. is in confusion, and not easy to understand. The Schol. in the Oxf. Catena well remarks, εἴ τις προσελθὼν αὐταῖς μὴ ὃν δεῖ τρόπον λέγει αὐτὰς βαρείας, τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἀσθένειαν ᾐτιάσατο· φίλον γὰρ τοῖς ἄγαν ἀποβάλλουσιν ἰσχὺν βαρέα νομίζεσθαι καὶ τὰ πάνυ ἐλαφρὰ καὶ κοῦφα.

This declaration, that His commandments are not grievous, has, as did ch. 1 John 3:9, furnished some of the R.-Cath. Commentators with an opportunity of characterizing very severely the Protestant position that none can keep God’s commandments. But here as there the reply is obvious and easy. The course of the Apostle’s argument here, as introduced in the next verse by ὅτι, substantiates this βαρεῖαι οὐκ εἰσίν by shewing that all who are born of God are standing in and upon the victory which their faith has obtained over the world. In this victorious state, and in as far as they have advanced into it, in other words in proportion as the divine life is developed and dominant in them, do they find those commandments not grievous. If this state, in its ideality, were realized in them, there would be no difficulty for them in God’s commandments: it is because, and in so far as sin is still reigning in their mortal bodies and their wills are unsubdued to God’s will, that any βάρος remains in keeping those commandments),


Verse 4

4.] because (reason, why His commandments are not grievous: not, as Œc., ἐπιτίθησι τοῖς ἤδη εἰρημένοις κσὶ ἕτερον ἐπακτικὸν πρὸς τὴν μεταχείρισιν τῆς ἀγάπης, making καὶ αἱ ἐντ. αὐ. β. οὐκ εἰς. merely parenthetical) all that is born of God (the neuter is here used as gathering together in one, under the category of “born of God,” the ἡμεῖς implied in the last verses. So St. John uses the comprehensive categorical neuter in reff. Œc. seems to deny this personal meaning of πᾶν, and to understand it “every thing,” applying it afterwards to ἡ πίστις ἡμ. as one such thing. Aretius and Paulus take it similarly. But besides the Apostle’s usage cited above, the whole analogy here is against such an interpretation. It is we, not our faith, of which the term ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγεννῆσθαι is used) conquereth ( νικᾷ, of habit: simply predicated of the category πᾶν τὸ κ. τ. λ.) the world (the kingdom of evil under its prince the devil, God’s adversary; in the main as Calv., “quicquid adversum est Dei spiritui. Ita naturæ nostræ pravitas pars mundi est, omnes concupiscentiæ, omnes Satanæ actus, quicquid denique nos a Deo abstrahit.”

The argument then is this: The commandments of God are not grievous: for, although in keeping them there is ever a conflict, yet that conflict issues in universal victory: the whole mass of the born of God conquer the world: therefore none of us need contemplate failure, or faint under his struggle as a hard one), and the victory which (hath) conquered the world is this, our faith (the identification of the victory with the faith which gained it, is a concise and emphatic way of linking the two inseparably together, so that wherever there is faith there is victory. And this is further expressed by the aorist participle, by which, as Estius (notwithstanding that the vulgate has “quæ vincit”), “significatur victoria jam parta:” cf. ch. 1 John 2:13, 1 John 4:4. Socinus absurdly explains the aorist as speaking of those whose Christian course is done, against the plain ἐστίν, not only here but in 1 John 5:5).


Verse 5

5.] If it be asked, How does our faith overcome the world? this verse furnishes the answer; because it brings us into union with Jesus Christ the Son of God, making us as He is, and partakers of His victory, John 16:33. Through this belief we are born again as sons of God; we have Him in us, One greater than he who is in the world, ch. 1 John 4:4. And this conclusion is put in the form of a triumphant question: What other person can do it? Who that believes this, can fail to do it? Who is be that conquereth the world, except he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? By comparing 1 John 5:1 a, we find 1) that ὁ χριστός there answers to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ here; 2) that by the combination of the two verses, we get the proposition of 1 John 5:4 a.

Episcopius gives well the meaning: “Lustrate universum mundum et ostendite mihi vel unum, de quo vere affirmari possit, quod mundum vincat, qui Christianus et fide hac præditus non est.”


Verse 6

6.] This (viz. the person spoken of in the last verse; Jesus. This, which is maintained by most Commentators, is denied by Knapp and Huther, who refer οὗτος to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ: “This Son of God is he &c.:” making the proposition assert the identity of the Son of God with the historical Jesus, not the converse. This Huther supports on two grounds: 1) that the fact that Jesus came by water and blood needed no proof even to Heretics: 2) that on the ordinary interpretation the following words, ἰης. ( ) χριστός, become altogether superfluous. But to these it is easily replied, 1) that although the fact might be confessed, that was not confessed to which the fact bore testimony, viz. that Jesus who came in the flesh was the Son of God: 2) that the appositional clause ἰης. ( ) χριστός is by no means superfluous, being only a solemn reassertion of our Lord’s Person and Office as testified by these signs.

The main objection to Huther’s view is, that, as well stated by Düsterd., it makes the coming by water and blood, which, by the context, is evidently in the Apostle’s argument a substantiating consideration, to be merely an exceptional one: “this Son of God is Jesus (the) Christ, though He came by water and blood.” Therefore the other interpretation must stand fast. It is well defended also by Lücke) is he that came by water and blood (the words διʼ ὕδατος κ. αἵματος have been universally and rightly taken with ἐλθών. Only Hofmann, in the Schriftbeweis, ii. 1, p. 331, maintains the joining διʼ ὕδ. κ. αἵμ. to ἐστιν, understanding ἐλθών, “He that has come,” in the sense of ὁ ἐρχόμενος. But this latter idea is wholly without N. T. precedent, and condemns the whole. It indeed, without Hofmann’s construction, is token by several Commentators, Corn.-a-lap., Tirinus, Calov., Bengel (“Jesus est is quem propter promissiones venire oportuit, et qui venit revera”), Knapp, &c. But if this meaning is in ἐλθών, then it cannot be the mere exponent of διʼ ὕδ. κ. αἵμ., but must take an emphatic place of its own, and διʼ ὕδ. κ. αἵμ. must stand awkwardly alone, “and that by water and blood,” or must, as Hofmann, belong to ἐστιν.

Taking then the generally received construction, we may observe that the article before the aor. part. ἐλθών, makes οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐλθών to be the identification of οὗτος with ὁ ἐλθών, i. e. with one who as an historical fact, ἦλθεν, precluding such renderings as “came” for ἐστὶν ὁ ἐλθών; also forbidding the making the aor. into a present, “this is He that cometh,” as Luther, Seb.-Schmidt, J. Lange, Rickli, Sander, al., and perhaps Œc., as has been inferred from his understanding ὕδωρ and αἷμα of present means of grace and salvation: ὁ γὰρ ἐλθὼν ἰησοῦς ὁ χριστὸς διʼ ὕδατος ἀναγεννᾷ καὶ αἵματος. But he may have been misunderstood: the ἐλθών in this comment, and the circumstance that he afterwards dwells on the historical facts of the Baptism and the Crucifixion, seem to shew that he understood the participle aoristically. We may clearly do so, and still regard the water and blood as present in their effects and testimony. All Commentators, except Hofmann (see above), regard ἐλθών as referring, not to the Lord’s birth in the flesh, but to His open manifestation of himself before the world. See above on ch. 1 John 4:2.

The prep. διὰ, which passes into ἐν in the next sentence, is thereby explained to bear its very usual sense of through or by means of, as said of that which accompanies, as the medium through which, or the element in which. We have an example of ἐν passing into διὰ, 2 Corinthians 6:6-7; and the very same phrases, διʼ αἵματος and ἐν αἵματι, are used of our Lord in Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:25, which chapter is the best of all comments on this difficult expression.

διʼ ὕδατος κ. αἵματος has been very variously understood. Two canons of interpretation have been laid down by Düsterd., and may safely be adopted: 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: and 2) they must not be interpreted symbolically, but understood of something so real and powerful, as that by them God’s testimony given to believers, and eternal life assured to them. These canons at once exclude such interpretations as that of Wetst., al., “probavit se non phantasma sed verum hominem esse qui ex spiritu (sive aëre, 1 John 5:8) sanguine et aqua seu humore constaret, John 19:34 :”—as the purely symbolical interpretation, of which there are two kinds:—1) that of Socinus and his school, in which ὕδωρ stands for the purity and innocence of the life and doctrine of Christ, Hebrews 10:22, Ephesians 5:26,—and αἷμα of the death of Christ as His testimony of Himself. So Schlichting and Grotius: 2) that given by Clement of Alex., Adumbrationes ad h. 1. 1011 P (not in Migne), in which ὕδωρ represents regeneration and faith, and αἷμα, knowledge (cognitionem): by Beza,—in which ὕδωρ is “ablutio a peccati labe, cujus nunc tessera est Baptismus,”— αἷμα, “expiatio et persolutio pro peccatis:” by Calvin, in which he explains both ὕδωρ and αἷμα by “summatim ostendit quorsum præcipue tenderent ceremoniæ veteres: nempe ut homines ab inquinamentis purgati et soluti omnibus piaculis, Deum haberent propitium et illi consecrarentur.” By the latter of our two canons is excluded also the idea of mere symbolic reference to the sacraments, as e. g. Beza (see above), Luther, Calvin, al.

Düsterdieck observes that it is remarkable that the best R.-Cath. expositor, Estius (whose commentary is unfortunately broken off at this verse), does not as some have done, interpret αἷμα of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but puts together ὕδωρ and αἷμα, as Calvin and Luther: “per sanguinem vivificat tum in baptismo aquæ, tum in aliis sacramentis, tum etiam extra sacramenta.” So that, as Düsterdieck proceeds, the great leaders of the three schools of theology have had the tact to see that which their less skilful followers have missed seeing,—that αἷμα cannot by any means be understood of the Lord’s Supper, as has been done by Hunnius, Seb.-Schmidt, Calov., Wolf, Bengel, Carpzov., Sander, al.

The next point which comes before us is, to enquire whether at all, or how far, our passage is connected with John 19:34? It occurs here, because many Commentators, e. g., Bed(76), Hunnius, Seb.-Schmidt, Calov., Wolf, Bengel, &c., have seen in the incident there related a miraculous symbolizing of the two sacraments, and in this passage an allusion to that incident. To deny all such allusion, as is done by Düsterdieck, seems against probability. The Apostle could hardly both here and in that place lay such evident stress on the water and blood together, without having in his mind some link connecting this place and that. That in the Gospel it is αἷμα and ὕδωρ,—in this place ὕδωρ and αἷμα,—a difference of which Düsterd. makes much, is surely not worth mentioning. The idea that we have here nothing more than a reference to the fact of John 19:34, is against our 2nd canon above: but that John 19:34 and this refer to the same fundamental truth, is I conceive hardly to be doubted.

It rests now then that we enquire into the meaning of each expression. On αἷμα, there cannot surely be much uncertainty. The blood of His Cross must, by all Scripture analogy, be that intended. The pouring out of this blood was the completion of the baptism which He had to be baptized with, Mark 10:38-39, Luke 12:50. And if this is so, to what can ὕδωρ be referred so simply, as to that baptism with water, which inaugurated the Lord’s ministry? It might indeed be said that the baptism which He instituted for His followers, better satisfies the test of our 2nd canon, that viz. of being an abiding testimony in the Christian Church. But to this there lies the objection, that as αἷμα signifies something which happened to Christ Himself, so must ὕδωρ likewise, at least primarily, whatever permanent testimony such event may have left in the Christian Church. And thus some modern Commentators have taken it: as uniting the historical fact of the Lord’s baptism with the ordinance of baptism, grounded on it, and abiding in the Christian Church. So Semler, Rosenm., Baumg.-Crus., Brückner, Neander, Huther. Düsterd. refuses to accept this view, denying that our Lord’s Baptism was any proof or testimony of His Messiahship, and understanding ὕδωρ of the ordinance of baptism only. But surely we are not right in interpreting ὁ ἐλθὼν διʼ ὕδατος, He that ordained baptism: nor, whatever Düsterd. may say, in giving the two, αἷμα and ὕδωρ, an entirely different reference. For his endeavour to escape from this by making αἷμα not Christ’s death but His blood, applied to us, cannot be accepted, as giving a “non-natural” sense to ἐλθὼν διʼ αἵματος likewise.

All this being considered, it seems impossible to avoid giving both to αἷμα and ὕδωρ the combined senses above indicated, and believing that such were before the Apostle’s mind. They represent,— ὕδωρ, the baptism of water which the Lord Himself underwent and instituted for His followers, αἷμα, the baptism of blood, which He Himself underwent, and instituted for His followers. And it is equally impossible to sever, as Düsterd. does, from these words, the historical accompaniments and associations which arise on their mention. The Lord’s baptism, of itself, was indeed rather a result than a proof of his Messiahship: but in it, taking St. John’s account only, a testimony to His divine Sonship was given, by which the Baptist knew Him to be the Son of God: ἐγὼ ἑώρακα κ. μεμαρτύρηκα ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, are his words, John 1:34; and when that blood was poured from His “riven side,” he that saw it again uses the same formula, ὁ ἑωρακὼς μεμαρτύρηκε. It cannot be that the word μαρτυρία being thus referred to two definite points of our Lord’s life, should not apply to these two, connected as they are with ὕδωρ and αἷμα here mentioned, and associated by St. John himself with the remarkable preterite μεμαρτύρηκεν, of an abiding μαρτυρία in both cases. But these past facts in the Lord’s life are this abiding testimony to us, by virtue of the permanent application to us of their cleansing and atoning power. And thus both our canons are satisfied, which certainly is not the case in Düsterdieck’s interpretation, though they were laid down by himself), Jesus Christ (see above on οὗτος. As now, with the art. omitted, the words are merely the name, “Jesus Christ:” if it were inserted, the adjunct ὁ χριστός would be an appositional predicate, and would necessarily send the thought back to the ἐλθὼν διʼ ὕδ. κ. αἵμ. as a proof of the Messiahship of Jesus. It may be remarked, however, that in all the places where St. John uses this Name, it has a solemn meaning, and is by the emphasis thus thrown on the official designation of our Lord, nearly = ἰησοῦς ὁ χριστός. Cf. John 1:17; John 17:3; 1 John 1:3; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:2; 1 John 5:20; 2 John 1:3; 2 John 1:7): not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood ( ἐν, see above on διά. The sense of the two is there shewn to be closely allied, ἐν giving rather the “element in which,” διὰ, the medium through which. The art. before each dative shews not merely, as Huther, that ὕδωρ and αἷμα have been before named, but that they are well-known and solemn ideas. It is inserted not as matter of course, but as giving solemnity.

But why has the Apostle added this sentence? Schöttgen thought that it is to give Christ the preference over Moses, who came only by water (1 Corinthians 10:2), and Aaron, who came only by blood (of sacrifice), whereas Christ united both. But this is too far-fetched. Baumgarten-Crusius again regards the words as directed against those who despised the Cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23): but a more definite explanation than this is required. And those can hardly be wrong, who find it in such words as those of the Baptist in John 1:25, ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι, μέσος ὑμῶν στήκει ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε: cf. the emphatic repetitions below, ib. John 1:31, ἦλθον ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι βαπτίζων, and John 1:33, ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι. The baptism of Jesus was not one of water only, but one of blood,— ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ—and something more than that, which follows in the next clause): and the Spirit is that which witnesseth, because the Spirit is the truth (that is, as explained by the next verse, the Spirit is an additional witness, besides those already mentioned, to the Messiahship of Jesus, and in that, to the eternal life which God has given us in Him. This at once removes the meaning “that,” which some have given to ὅτι. It is not to the fact that the Spirit is the truth, that the Spirit gives witness: but the fact, that He is the truth, is that which makes Him so weighty a witness; which makes the giving of witness so especially His office.

Very various however have been the meanings here given to τὸ πνεῦμα. The scholium in Matthäi understands, the spirit of our Lord ( τὸ πν. τῆς ψυχῆς) which He when dying commended into His Father’s hands. Augusti, who explains ὕδωρ and αἷμα of the two Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, sees in πνεῦμα, in connexion with John 20:22 ff., a third Sacrament of absolution. Ziegler and Stroth regard it as = ὁ πνευματικός, i. e. St. John himself. Œc. and Knapp regard it as = ὁ θεόςδιὰ δὲ τοῦ πνεύματος, ὅτε ὡς θεὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν· θεοῦ γὰρ τοῦτο μόνου λοιπόν, τὸ ἀνιστᾷν ἑαυτόν. τῇ δὲ τοῦ πνεύματος φωνῇ σημαίνεται ὁ θεός: thus making the threefold witness to the υἱοθεσία of Jesus, τὸ βάπτισμα, ὁ σταυρός, ἡ ἀνάστασις. Then again Socinus, Schlichting, Grot., Whitby, al., interpret it of the Divine power by which Christ wrought His miracles: “id est,” says Grot., “per μετωνυμίαν, admiranda ejus opera, a virtute divina manifeste procedentia.” But this, as well as Bede’(77) interpretation, that the Spirit which descended on the Lord at His baptism is meant, inasmuch as it testified to His being “verus Dei filius,”—fails, in giving no present abiding testimony such as the context requires. Others again understand by πνεῦμα the ministry of the word: so Aretius, J. Lange, Hunnius (“Spiritus per externam prædicationem verbi testificator de Jesu Christo, atque simul intrinsecus in cordibus fidelium hanc Christi notitiam obsignat”), Luther, Piscator, Carpzov., Rosenmüller (the Gospel), Seb.-Schmidt (“verbum evangelii et cum eo ministerium ecclesiasticum”), &c. Most of these, as well as Bengel, whose whole interpretation is confused by his attempt to force the interpolated words in 1 John 5:7 into the context, understand πνεῦμα here and in 1 John 5:8 differently. But nothing can be plainer than that we must not alter the meaning, where the ὅτι binds together the sentences so closely.

The above interpretations (to which we may add that of Sander, that τὸ πν. = τὸ χάρισμα, the transformation of a man which takes place by the agency of the Holy Spirit) failing to give any satisfactory account of the text, we recur to the simple and obvious meaning, the Holy Spirit. This is taken by Schol. I., Estius, Corn.-a-lap., Tirinus, Calvin, Calov., Lücke, Rickli, De Wette, Huther, Neander, Düsterdieck, al. And it seems fully to satisfy all the requirements of the passage. The Holy Spirit is He, who testifies of Christ (John 15:26), who glorifies Him, and shews of the things which belong to Him (John 16:14). It is by the possession of Him that we know that we have Christ (ch. 1 John 3:24). And the following clause, “because the Spirit is the Truth,” exactly agrees with this. He is the absolute Truth (John 14:17; John 15:26), leading into all the Truth (John 16:13 f.). And in this consists the all-importance and the infallibility of His witness. “Testimonium ejus hand-quaquam rejici potest, quoniam Spiritus est veritas, quum sit Deus, ideoque nec falli potest, nec fallere.” Estius).


Verses 6-13

6–13.] As in the former portions, our communion with God who is light (ch. 1 John 1:5 ff.) was treated, and our birth in righteousness from God who is righteous (1 John 2:29 ff.), by faith in Jesus the Son of God,—so now we have another most important element of the Christian life set before us: the testimony to it arising from that life itself: the witness of the spiritual life to its own reality. This witness rests not on apostolic testimony alone, but on the Holy Spirit, which the believer has in himself (1 John 5:10), and which is God’s testimony respecting His Son (1 John 5:9-10), and our assurance that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

There is hardly a passage in the N. T. which has given rise to more variety of interpretation: certainly none which (on account of the apparent importance of the words interpolated after 1 John 5:7) has been the field of so much critical controversy. Complete accounts of both the exegesis and the criticism will be found in the recent monographs on the Epistle: more especially in that of Düsterdieck. I shall indicate the more salient points of the divergent interpretations as I proceed.


Verses 6-21

6–21.] THE THIRD AND LAST DIVISION OF THE EPISTLE. This portion falls naturally into two parts: 1 John 5:6-13, and 1 John 5:14-21; the former of which treats of the concluding part of the argument, and the latter forms the close of the Epistle.


Verse 7

7.] “Johannes hic causam reddit, cur locutus fuerit non de Spiritu tantum, cujus præcipua in hoc negotio est auctoritas, verum etiam de aqua et sanguine, quia in illis etiam non exigua est testimonii fides, et ternarius numerus in testibus est perfectissimus.” Grot. For (from what has been just cited from Grot. it will be seen that “because” would be here, as so often, too strong a causal rendering for ὅτι, and that even at the risk of identifying it with γάρ, logical accuracy requires the slighter causal conjunction) those who bear witness are three ( τρεῖς εἰσιν is copula and predicate. The three are considered as living and speaking witnesses; hence the masculine form. By being three, they fulfil the requirements of the Law as to full testimony: cf. Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16, 2 Corinthians 13:1), the Spirit, and the water, and the blood (now, the Spirit is put first: and not without reason. The Spirit is, of the three, the only living and active witness, properly speaking: besides, the water and the blood are no witnesses without Him; whereas He is independent of them, testifying both in them and out of them), and the three concur in one (contribute to one and the same result: viz. the truth that Jesus is the Christ and that we have life in Him. Corn.-a-lap.’s mistake, “in unum, ad unum, scil. Christum,” cannot have come (as Düsterd.) from a misunderstanding of the vulgate, seeing that it has “hi tres unum sunt:” but is merely an exegesis, and in the main a right one. But the words simply signify in themselves, “are in accord.” And this their one testimony is given by the purification in the water of baptism into His name, John 3:5; by the continual cleansing from all sin which we enjoy in and by His atoning blood: by the inward witness of His Spirit, which He hath given us).

The question of the genuineness of the words read in the rec. at the end of 1 John 5:7, has been discussed, as far as external grounds are concerned, in the digest; and it has been seen, that unless pure caprice is to be followed in the criticism of the sacred text, there is not the shadow of a reason for supposing them genuine. Even the supposed citations of them in early Latin Fathers have now, on closer examination, disappeared (see Digest) Something remains to be said on internal grounds, on which we have full right to enter, now that the other is secured. And on these grounds it must appear, on any fair and unprejudiced consideration, that the words are 1) alien from the context: 2) in themselves incoherent, and betraying another hand than the Apostle’s. For 1) the context, as above explained, is employed in setting forth the reality of the substance of the faith which overcomes the world, even of our eternal life in Jesus the Son of God. And this is shewn by a threefold testimony, subsisting in the revelation of the Lord Himself, and subsisting in us His people. And this testimony is the water of baptism, the blood of atonement, the Spirit of truth, concurrent in their witness to the one fact that He is the Son of God, and that we have eternal life in Him. Now between two steps of this argument,—not as a mere analogy referred to at its conclusion,—insert the words “For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one,” and who can fail to see, unless prejudice have blinded his eyes, that the context is disturbed by the introduction of an irrelevant matter? Consequently, Bengel, one of the most strenuous upholders of the words, is obliged tamely to take refuge in the transposition of 1 John 5:7-8 (which was perhaps the original form of its insertion in the vulgate; see Digest I. II. and the quotation by Vigilius), so as to bring into treatment the matter in hand, before the illustration of it is introduced. But even suppose this could be done; what kind of illustration is it? What is it to which our attention is directed? Apparently the mere fact of the triplicity of testimony: for there is not the remotest analogy between the terms in the one case and those in the other; the very order of them, differing as it does in the two cases, shews this. Is this triplicity a fact worthy of such a comparison? And then, what is the testimony in heaven? Is it borne to men? Certainly not: for God hath no man seen, as He is there: His only-begotten Son hath declared Him to us on earth, where all testimony affecting us must be borne. Is it a testimony to angels? Possibly: but quid ad rem? And then, again, what but an unworthy play on words can it be called, to adduce the ἕν εἰσιν on the one side, the essential unity of the ever blessed Godhead, and on the other the εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν, the concurrence in testifying to one fact,—as correspondent to one another? Does not this betray itself as the fancy of a patristic gloss, in the days when such analogies and comparisons were the sport of every theological writer? And 2) the very words betray themselves. ὁ πατήρ and ὁ λόγος are never combined by St. John, but always ὁ πατήρ and ὁ υἱός. The very apology of Bengel, “Verbi appellatio egregie convenit cum testimonio,” may serve to shew how utterly weak he must have felt the cause to be.

The best conclusion to the whole subject is found in the remark of Bengel himself on another occasion (cited by Lücke here), of the practice reprobated, of which he himself furnishes here so striking an instance: “male strenuos ii se præbent in bellis Domini, qui ita animum inducunt, ‘Dogmati elenchoque meo opportunus est hic textus: ergo me ipse cogam ad eum protinus pro vero habendum: eumque ipsum, et omnia quæ pro eo corradi possunt, obnixe defendam.’ Atqui veritas non eget fulcris falsis, sed se sola multo melius nititur.”

A sketch of the principal particulars of the dispute and of the books relating to it is given in Horne’s Introduction, vol. iv. pp. 355–388.


Verse 9

9.] An argument a minori ad majus, grounded on the practice of mankind, by which it is shewn that God’s testimony must be by all means believed by us. If we (mankind in general: all reasonable men) receive (as we do: εἰ with an indic.: cf. John 7:23; John 10:35; John 13:14. On the expression μαρτ. λαμβάνειν, see reff. It is, to receive with approval, to accept) the testimony of men ( τῶν ἀνθρ., generic; τὴν μαρτ. in any given case. No special testimony need be thought of, as touching this present case: the proposition is general), the testimony of God is greater (supply in the argument, “and therefore much more ought we to receive that.” The testimony of God here spoken of is not any particular testimony, as the prophecies concerning Christ (Bede), or the testimony of the Baptist and other eyewitnesses to Him (Wetstein, Storr), or the Prophets, the Baptist, Martyrs, and Apostles (Bengel, Episcopius, al.): it is general, as is the testimony of men with which it is compared. The particular testimony pointed at by the general proposition is introduced in the following words): for (see above at the beginning of 1 John 5:7. Here, there is an ellipsis: “and this maxim applies in the case before us, because”), the testimony of God is this, that He hath borne testimony concerning His Son (i. e. the testimony of God to which the argument applies is this, the fact that He hath borne testimony to His Son: αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία, ὅτι …, as in 1 John 5:11. The correction to the easier ἥν, as in 1 John 5:10, gives a wrong reference for αὕτη, making it refer back to that mentioned in 1 John 5:6-8, and throws back also a wrong shade of meaning over 1 John 5:9, making “the testimony of God” there particular instead of general. The absolute sense of μεμαρτύρηκεν is found in the Gospel, John 1:32, John 13:21, John 19:35; see also 1 John 5:6-7 above).


Verses 10-12

10–12.] The perfect μεμαρτύρηκεν, 1 John 5:9, shewed that the testimony spoken of is not merely an historical one, such for instance as Matthew 3:17, which God ἐμαρτύρησεν, but one abiding and present. And these verses explain to us what that testimony is. He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony (just spoken of; τοῦ θεοῦ, as the gloss adds: see var. readd.) in him (i. e. in himself. The two readings do not differ in sense. The object of the divine testimony being, to produce faith in Christ, the Apostle takes him in whom it has wrought this its effect, one who habitually believes in the Son of God, and says of such an one that he possesses the testimony in himself. What it is, he does not plainly say till below, 1 John 5:11. But easily enough here we can synthetically put together and conjecture of what testimony it is that he is speaking: the Spirit by whom we are born again to eternal Life, the water of baptism by which the new birth is brought to pass in us by the power of the Holy Ghost (John 3:5, Titus 3:5), the Blood of Jesus by which we have reconciliation with God, and purification from our sins (ch. 1 John 1:7, 1 John 2:2), and eternal life (John 6:53 ff.),—these three all contribute to and make up our faith in Christ, and so compose that testimony, which the Apostle designates in 1 John 5:11 by the shorter term which comprehends them all. This is rightly maintained by Düsterd. as the exegesis: identifying the μαρτυρία here with that in 1 John 5:11, as against numerous expositors who make the one differ from the other. It is plain that all evasive senses of ἔχει ἐν αὐτῷ, such as “recipit in se” of Socinus, Grot., Rosenmüller, are inadmissible): he that believeth not God (St. John, as so frequently, proceeds to put his proposition in the strongest light by bringing out the opposite to it.

The reading τῷ θεῷ is internally as well as externally substantiated. The participle with the dative is wholly different from the same above with εἱς τὸν υἱόν. That is the resting trust of faith: this the mere first step of giving credit to a witness. Huther well fills in τῷ θεῷ by τῷ μεμαρτυρηκότι. And thus it is tacitly assumed that one who does not believe in the Son of God, gives no credit to God Himself) hath made Him a liar (perf. because the state of discredit implies a definite rejection still continuing. On the expression, see ch. 1 John 1:10), because he hath not believed in (here, not only, hath not credited, though that was the more shameful rejection of God’s word: but now the full rejection—the refusal to believe in, cast himself on God’s testimony) the testimony which God hath testified concerning His Son.


Verse 11

11.] Wherein this testimony consists. And the testimony (just spoken of) is this, that (consists in this, namely, that …) God gave (not, “hath given.” This is of especial importance here, where not the endurance of a state, but the fact of the gift having been once made, is brought out. The present assurance of our possessing this gift follows in the next clause, and in 1 John 5:12) to us (not “decrevit,” “promisit,” as Socinus, Schlichting, Episcopius, &c.,—nor as Bed(78), “dedit … sed adhuc in terra peregrinantibus in spe, quam daturus est in cœlis ad se pervenientibus in re”) eternal life, and ( ὅτι is not to be supplied, nor does this clause depend on αὕτη ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ., but it is appositional and co-ordinate with it) this life is in His Son (is, as Düsterd. quotes from Joachim Lange, in Him, οὐσιωδῶς (John 1:4; John 11:25; John 14:6), σωματικῶς (Colossians 2:9), ἐνεργητικῶς (2 Timothy 1:10). Here again, as ever in this Epistle, we have to guard against the evasive and rationalistic interpretations of Socinus, Grotius, Schlichting, al., such as “vitæ æternæ a Deo consequendæ rationem totam inveniri in ipso Jesu” of Socinus: “in pro per,” and “est pro contingit,” of Grot.: “illa vita æterna ipsa est quam Jesus revelavit,” of the same).


Verse 12

12.] Conclusion of the whole argument from 1 John 5:6; dependent on the last clause of 1 John 5:11, and carrying it on a step farther, even to the absolute identity as matter of possession for the believer, of the Son of God, and eternal life. He that hath the Son, hath the life: he that hath not the Son of God, the life hath he not. First notice the diction and arrangement, on which Bengel has well remarked, “Habet versus duo cola: in priore non additur Dei, nam fideles norunt Filium: in altero additur, ut demum sciantinfid eles, quanti sit non habere. Priore hemistichio cum emphasi pronunciandum est habet: in altero, vitam.” This latter furnishes a simple and beautiful example of the laws of emphasis in arrangement: ἔχει τὴν ζωήντὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει.

Next, the ἔχειν τὸν υἱόν must not be explained away with Grotius by “verba illa retinere quæ Pater Filio mandavit,” nor ἔχειν τὴν ζωήν, with the same, by “jus certum habere ad vitam æternam.” The having the Son is the possession of Christ by faith testified by the Spirit, the water, and the blood: and the having the life is the actually possessing it, not indeed in its most glorious development, but in all its reality and vitality.

Thirdly, it must be remarked that the question as to whether eternal salvation is altogether confined to those who in the fullest sense have the Son (to the exclusion, e. g., of those who have never heard of Him), does not belong here, but must be entertained on other grounds. See note on 1 Peter 3:19. Düsterd. has remarked that the use of ὁ μὴ ἔχων, not ὁ οὐκ ἔχων (cf. οἱ οὐκ ἠλεημένοι, 1 Peter 2:10), shews that the Apostle is contemplating, at all events primarily, rather a possible contingency than an actual fact: and thus is, primarily again, confining his saying to those to whom the divine testimony has come. To them, according as they receive or do not receive it, according as they are οἱ ἔχοντες or οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, it is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.


Verse 13

13.] This verse seems, as John 20:30 f., like an anticipatory close of the Epistle: and its terms appear to correspond to those used in ch. 1 John 1:4. This view, which is maintained by Düsterd., is far more probable than that it should refer only to what has occurred since 1 John 5:6, as ch. 1 John 2:26 to 1 John 5:18 ff. there (so De Wette): or only to 1 John 5:11-12, as Huther. Still less likely is it that the concluding portion of the Epistle begins with this verse, as Bengel, Baumg.-Crus., Lücke, Sander, and Tischendorf in his editions. These things wrote I to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life, (to you) that believe in the name of the Son of God (as to the reading, I believe the text, which is found in (79) (80)1 only, to be the “fons lectionum.” The unusual position of the dative seeming hard, it was altered to the nominative as in A al., or transposed with its accompanying words, to follow ὑμῖν. Then the final clause, not having been struck out, was adapted to the preceding ἵνα εἴδητε, or to John 20:31, from whence came the reading (see Tischdf.) πιστεύσητε. The two readings come, in the sense, to much the same. If the rec. be followed, then the πιστεύητε must be interpreted “continue to believe”).


Verse 14-15

14, 15.] The believer’s confidence as shewn in prayer. And the confidence which we have towards Him (which follows as a matter of immediate inference from the fact of our spiritual life: see ch. 1 John 3:19-21) is this, that if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us (this confidence may be shewn in various ways, including prayer as one, ch. 1 John 3:22. And that one, of prayer, is alone chosen to be insisted on here. As regards the construction, there is no ellipsis between παρ. and ὅτι; “our confidence is this, (the confidence) that …,” as some, e. g. Lücke, have thought. ἡ παῤῥησία is itself subjective, the feeling of confidence.

αὐτόν and τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ must by all analogy be referred to the Father, not to the Son, by whom we have access to the Father. See especially ch. 1 John 3:21-22.

The truth that God hears ( ἀκούει, as in reff.) all our prayers, has been explained on ch. 1 John 3:22. The condition here attached, that the request be κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ, is in fact no limitation within the reality of the Christian life, i. e. in St. John’s way of speaking according to the true ideal. For God’s will is that to which our glorious Head himself submitted himself, and which rules the whole course of the Christian life for our good and His glory: and he who in prayer or otherwise tends against God’s will is thereby, and in so far, transgressing the bounds of his life in God: see James 4:3. By the continual feeling of submission to His will, joined with continual increase in knowledge of that will, our prayers will be both chastened, and directed aright. If we knew His will thoroughly, and submitted to it heartily, it would be impossible for us to ask any thing, for the spirit or for the body, which He should not hear and perform. And it is this ideal state, as always, which the Apostle has in view. In this view he goes still farther in the next verse).


Verses 14-21

14–21.] CLOSE OF THE EPISTLE. The link which binds this passage to 1 John 5:13 is the παῤῥησία, taken up again from the εἴδητε ὅτι of that verse. This παῤῥησία is the very energizing of our spiritual life: and its most notable and ordinary exercise is in communion with God in prayer, for ourselves or for our brethren, 1 John 5:14-17. Then 1 John 5:18-20 continue the explanation of the “sin unto death,” and the “sin not unto death,” by setting forth the state of believers as contrasted with that of the world, and the truth of our eternal life as consisting in this. Then with a pregnant caution, 1 John 5:21, the Apostle closes his Epistle.


Verse 15

15.] And if we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask (= our every petition: the condition, κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ, is omitted this time as being supposed to be fulfilled), we know that we have the petitions ( τὰ αἰτήματα, ‘res petitas,’ as Huther from Lorinus) which we have asked from Him (notice the pres. ἔχομεν with the perf. ᾐτήκαμεν.The perf. reaches through all our past prayers to this moment. All these we ἔχομεν: not one of them is lost: He has heard, He has answered them all: we know that we have them in the truest sense, in possession. If the perf. were pres., αἰτούμεθα, the assertion ἔχομεν would be merely of habit, on each occasion: as it is, it is of the present possession of all past requests.

The παρʼ αὐτοῦ belongs, by the arrangement of the words, to ᾐτήκαμεν, not to ἔχομεν, as Huther).


Verse 16-17

16, 17.] Join together the confidence concerning prayer just expressed, and the all-essential Christian principle of brotherly love, and we have following, as matter of course, the duty, and the practice, of intercession for an erring brother. And of this, with a certain not strictly defined limitation, these verses treat. If any man see (on any occasion, aor. “shall have seen”) his brother (as throughout the Epistle, to be taken in the stricter sense: not “proximus quicunque,” as Calov., but his Christian brother, one born of God as he is himself) sinning (Düsterd. remarks, that the present part. is not merely predicative, as would be the infin. ἁμαρτάνειν, but more graphic, as describing the ‘brother’ actually in the act and under the bondage of the sin in question) a sin not unto death (see below), he shall ask (the future conveys not merely a permission, “licebit,” but a command, taking for granted the thing enjoined as that which is to happen), and shall give him life (viz. the asker shall give: not, as Beza, Piscator, Socinus, Grot., Benson, Bengel, Lücke, Sander, al., God shall give, though of course this is so in reality: but the words mean, he, interceding for his brother, shall be the means of bestowing life on him: “rogans vivificabit,” as the æthiopic version. The vulg. evades it by “dabitur ei vita.” This bestowal of life by intercessory prayer, is not to be minutely enquired into, whether it is to be accompanied with “correptio fraterna,”—whether it consists in the giving to the sinner a repentant heart (Grot., al.), but taken as put by the Apostle, in all its simplicity and breadth. Life, viz., the restoration of that divine life from which by any act of sin he was in peril and indeed in process of falling, but his sin was not an actual fall) for them that sin not unto death (the clause takes up and emphatically repeats the hypothesis before made, viz., that the sin of the brother is not unto death. It does so in the plural, because the αὐτῷ before being indefinite, all such cases are now categorically collected: q. d. “shall give this life, I repeat, to those who sin not unto death”). There is a sin unto death: concerning it I do not say that he should make request (leaving for the present the great question, I will touch the minor points in this verse. First, it necessarily by the conditions of the context involves what is equivalent to a prohibition. This has been denied by many Commentators, “Ora si velis, sed sub dubio impetrandi,” says Corn.-a-lap. And it is equally denied, without the same implied meaning being given, by Socin., Schlichting, Grot., Carpzov., Neander, Lücke, De Wette, Huther: some of these, as Neander, thinking it implied, that prayer may be made, though the obtaining of it will be difficult,—others, as De Wette, that it will be in vain, others as Huther, that St. John simply says such a case was not within his view in making the above command. And most of even those who have recognized the prohibition, strive to soften it, saying, as e. g. Lyra, that though “non est orandum pro damnatis,” yet we may pray for such a sinner, “ut minus peccaret et per consequens minus damnaretur in inferno:” or as Bengel, “Deus non vult ut pii frustra orent, Deuteronomy 3:26. Si ergo qui peccatum ad mortem commisit ad vitam reducitur, id ex mero provenit reservato divino.” Calvin indeed holds fast the prohibition in all its strictness, but only in extreme cases: adding, “Sed quia rarissime hoc accidit, et Deus, immensas gratiæ suæ divitias commendans, nos suo exemplo misericordes esse jubet: non temere in quem-quam ferendum est mortis æternæ judicium, potius nos caritas ad bene sperandum flectat. Quod si desperata quorundam impietas non secus nobis apparet, ac si Dominus eam digito monstraret, non est quod certemus cum justo Dei judicio, vel clementiores eo esse appetamus.”

Certainly this seems, reserving the question as to the nature of the sin, the right view of the οὐ λέγω. By an express command in the other case, and then as express an exclusion of this case from that command, nothing short of an implied prohibition can be conveyed.

The second point here relates to the difference between αἰτεῖν and ἐρωτᾷν. The first is petere, the second rogare: as in Cicero, Planc. x. 25, “Neque enim ego sic rogabam ut petere viderer, quia familiaris esset meus.” Cf. Trench, N. T. Synonyms, pp. 140–143, edn. 1865. αἰτεῖν is more of the petition of the inferior: “in victum quasi et reum convenit,” as Bengel: ἐρωτᾷν is more general, of the request of the equal, or of one who has a right. Our Lord never uses αἰτεῖν or αἰτεῖσθαι of His own requests to God, but always ἐρωτᾶν, John 14:16; John 16:26; John 17:9; John 17:15; John 17:20. It is true, Martha says, ὅσα ἂν αἰτήσῃ τὸν θεόν, δώσει σοι ὁ θεός, John 11:22, but it was in ignorance, though in simplicity of faith, see Bengel in loc.: Trench, p. 142: and my note, Vol. I. And this difference is of importance here. The αἰτειν for a sin not unto death is a humble and trusting petition in the direction of God’s will, and prompted by brotherly love: the other, the ἐρωτᾷν for a sin unto death, would be, it is implied, an act savouring of presumption—a prescribing to God, in a matter which lies out of the bounds of our brotherly yearning (for notice, the hypothesis that a man sees a brother sin a sin unto death is not adduced in words, because such a sinner would not truly be a brother, but thereby demonstrated never to have deserved that name: see ch. 1 John 2:19), how He shall inflict and withhold His righteous judgments.

And these latter considerations bring us close to the question as to the nature of the sin unto death. It would be impossible to enumerate or even classify the opinions which have been given on the subject. Düsterdieck has devoted many pages to such a classification and discussion. I can do no more than point out the canons of interpretation, and some of the principal divergences. But before doing so, 1 John 5:17 must come under consideration).


Verse 17

17.] All unrighteousness is sin (in the words πᾶσα ἀδικία we have a reminiscence of ch. 1 John 1:9, ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφη ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἠμᾶς ἀπὸ πὰσης ἀδικίας, and also, but not so directly, of ch. 1 John 3:4, which is virtually the converse proposition to this. Here the Apostle seems to say, in explanation of what be has just written, “SIN is a large word, comprehending all unrighteousness whatever: whether of God’s children, or of aliens from Him.” The thoughts which have been brought into these words,—that ἀδικία is a mild word, meant to express that every slight trip of the good Christian falls under the category of sin, and so there may be a sin not unto death,—or, on the other hand, that it is a strong word, as Grot., “ ἀδικίαν vocat non quamvis ignorantiam aut obreptionem subitam, sed quicquid peccatur aut cum deliberatione aut dato ad deliberationem spatio,”—or thirdly, as Beza, that “peccata omnia hactenus paria sunt, ut vel minima minimi peccati cogitatio mortem æternam millies mereatur …” and “omnia per se lethalia esse peccata,”—are equally far from the meaning of the words, whose import is, as above, to account for there being a sin not unto death as well as a sin unto death); and there is a sin not (in this case not μή, because no hypothetical case is put, nor one dependent on judgment, but an objective fact) unto death (not having death for its issue: within the limit of that ἀδικία, from all of which God cleanseth all those who confess their sins, ch. 1 John 1:9).

Our first canon of interpretation of the ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον and οὐ πρὸς θάνατον is this: that the θάνατος and the ζωή of the passage must correspond. The former cannot be bodily death, while the latter is eternal and spiritual life. This clears away at once all those Commentators who understand the sin unto death to be one for which bodily death is the punishment, either by human law generally, as Morus and G. Lange, or by the Mosaic law, as Schöttgen,—or by sickness inflicted by God, as our Whitby and Benson; or of which there will be no end till the death of the sinner, which Bed(81) thinks possible (“Potest etiam peccatum ad mortem, p. usque ad mortem, accipi.” But he rejects this himself), and Lyra adopts. This last is evidently absurd, for how is a man to know whether this will be so or not?

Our second canon will be, that this sin unto death being thus a sin leading to eternal death, being no further explained to the readers here, must be presumed as meant to be understood by what the Evangelist has elsewhere laid down concerning the possession of life and death. Now we have from him a definition immediately preceding this, in 1 John 5:12, ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν· ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει. And we may safely say that the words πρὸς θάνατον here are to be understood as meaning, “involving the loss of this life which men have only by union with the Son of God.” And this meaning they must have, not by implication only, which would be the case if any obstinate and determined sin were meant, which would be a sign of the fact of severance from the life which is in Christ (see ch. 1 John 3:14-15, where the inference is of this kind), but directly and essentially, i. e. in respect of that very sin which is pointed at by them. Now against this canon are all those interpretations, far too numerous to mention, which make any atrocious and obstinate sin to be that intended. It is obvious that our limits are thus confined to abnegation of Christ, not as inferred by its fruits otherwise shewn, but as the act of sin itself. And so, with various shades of difference as to the putting forth in detail, most of the best Commentators, both ancient and modern: e. g. Aretius, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Piscator, Corn.-a-lap., Tirinus, Baumg.-Crus., Lücke, Huther, Düsterd.

Our third canon will help us to decide, within the above limits, what especial sin is intended. And it is, that by the very analogy of the context, it must be not a state of sin, but an appreciable ACT of sin, seeing that that which is opposed to it in the same kind, as being not unto death, is described by ἐάν τις ἴδῃ ἁμαρτάνοντα. So that all interpretations which make it to be a state of apostasy,—all such as, e. g. Bengel’s “peccatum ad mortem est peccatum non obvium, neque subitum, sed talis status animæ in quo fides et amor et spes, in summa, vita nova, exstincta est,”—do not reach the matter of detail which is before the Apostle’s mind.

In enquiring what this is, we must be guided by the analogy of what St. John says elsewhere. Our state being that of life in Jesus Christ, there are those who have gone out from us, not being of us, ch. 1 John 2:19, who are called ἀντίχριστοι, who not only “have not” Christ, but are Christ’s enemies, denying the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22), whom we are not even to receive into our houses nor to greet (2 John 1:10-11). These seem to be the persons pointed at here, and this the sin: viz. the denial that Jesus is the Christ the incarnate Son of God. This alone of all sins bears upon it the stamp of severance from Him who is the Life itself. As the confession of Christ, with the mouth and in the heart, is salvation unto life (Romans 10:9), so denial of Christ with the mouth and in the heart, is sin unto death. This alone of all the proposed solutions seems to satisfy all the canons above laid down. For in it, the life cast away and the death incurred strictly correspond: it strictly corresponds to what St. John has elsewhere said concerning life and death, and derives its explanation from those other passages, especially from the foregoing 1 John 5:12; and it is an appreciable act of sin, one against which the readers have been before repeatedly cautioned (ch. 1 John 2:18 ff., 1 John 4:1 ff., 1 John 4:5; 1 John 4:11-12). And further, it is in exact accordance with other passages of Scripture which seem to point at a sin similarly distinguished above others; viz. Matthew 12:31 ff., and, so far as the circumstances there dealt with allow common ground, with the more ethical passages, Hebrews 6:4 ff; Hebrews 10:25 ff. In the former case, the Scribes and Pharisees were resisting the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51) who was manifesting God in the flesh in the Person and work of Christ. For them the Lord Himself does not pray (Luke 23:34): they knew what they did: they went out from God’s people and were not of them: receiving and repudiating the testimony of the Holy Ghost to the Messiahship of Jesus.


Verse 18

18.] We know that every one who is born of God, sinneth not (see on ch. 1 John 3:9, from which place our words are almost repeated. As explained there and in our summary of these verses there is no real inconsistency with what has been just said. And that there is none the second member of the verse shews): but he that hath been born of God ( γεννηθείς, aor. this time. The perf. part. expresses more the enduring abidance of his heavenly birth, and fits better the habitual οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει: the aor. part., calling attention to the historical fact of his having been born of God, fits better the fact that the wicked one toucheth him not, that divine birth having severed his connexion with the prince of this world and of evil. So Düsterd. and Huther. See also the construction according to the true reading below. Sander, in apparent ignorance of the force of the tenses, has curiously taken them exactly vice versa: and Bengel has failed to hit the difference when he says, “Præteritum grandius quiddam sonat quam Aoristus: non modo qui magnum in regeneratione gradum assecutus, sed quilibet qui regenitus est, servat se.” The distinction is ingenious, but is not contained in the tenses) it keepeth him (“it,” viz. the divine birth, pointed at in the aor. part. γεννηθείς. So the vulg., but omitting the pendent nom., “sed generatio Dei conservat eum.” It is this, and not the fact of his own watchfulness, which preserves him from the touch of the wicked one: as in ch. 1 John 3:9, where the same is imported by ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει, κ. οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται. The rationalistic Commentators insist on τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν, as shewing, as Socinus, “aliquid præstare eum atque efficere, qui per Christum regeneratus fuerit:” and the orthodox Commentators have but a lame apology to offer. Düsterd. compares ἁγνίζει ἑαυτόν ch. 1 John 3:3. But the reference there is wholly different—viz. to a gradual and earnest striving after an ideal model; whereas here the τηρεῖσθαι must be, by the very nature of the case, so far complete, that the wicked one cannot approach: and whose self-guarding can ensure this even for a day? Cf. John 17:15, ἵνα τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ, which is decisive. There is a possible construction of the clause which I do not remember to have seen suggested, but which should hardly be left out of account. ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ might be taken as meaning the Son of God: “He that was begotten of God keepeth him.” But this would hardly suit the analogy of the Epistle: see e. g. 1 John 5:1 and note), and the wicked one (Satan: see reff. and notes) doth not touch him (Düsterd. approves of Calvin’s paraphrase, which is self-condemnatory—“continet se in Dei timore, nec se ita abripi patitur, ut exstincto pietatis sensu diabolo et carni totum se permittat”—as the meaning of ὁ πον. οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ. Of course the words must not be understood as saying that he is not tried with temptation by the evil one: but imply that as the Prince of this world had nothing in our blessed Lord, even so on His faithful ones who live by His life, the Tempter has no point d’appui, by virtue of that their γέννησις by which they are as He is. “Malignus appropinquat,” says Bengel, “ut musca lychnum, sed non nocet, ne tangit quidem”).


Verses 18-20

18–20.] Three solemn maxims of the Epistle regarding sin, and the children of God and the world, and our eternal life in Christ, are repeated as a close of the teaching of the Apostle. 1 John 5:18 seems to be not without reference to what has just been said concerning sin. In actual life, even our brethren, even we ourselves, born of God, shall sin, not unto death, and require brotherly intercession: but in the depth and truth of the Christian life, sin is altogether absent. It is the world, not knowing God, which lies under the power of the wicked one: God’s new-begotten children he cannot touch: they are in and they know the True One, and in Him have eternal life. These maxims are introduced with a thrice-repeated οἴδαμεν, the expression of full persuasion and free confidence. They form a triumphant repetition of and anticipation of the attainment of the purpose expressed in 1 John 5:13, ἵνα εἴδητε ὅτι ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον.


Verse 19

19.] Application of that which is said 1 John 5:18, to the Apostle and his readers; and that, in entire separation from ὁ πονηρός, the ruling spirit of this present world. We know (see summary above) that we (not emphatic: no ἡμεῖς as set over against ὁ κόσμος. It is not the object now to bring out a contrast, but to reassert solemnly these great axioms of the Christian life) are of God (i. e. born of God: identifying us with those spoken of 1 John 5:18), and the whole world lieth in the wicked one (this second member of the sentence does not depend on the preceding ὅτι, but like those of 1 John 5:18; 1 John 5:20, is an independent proposition. τῷ πονηρῷ, by the analogy of St. John’s diction, is masculine, not neuter, as Lyra (“in maligno, i. e. in malo igne concupiscentiæ”), Socinus, Schlichting, Episcopius (“in peccandi consuetudine tenentur”), Grotius (but with an allusion to ὁ πονηρός), al., and E. V. (“lieth in wickedness”). This neuter sense can hardly stand after comparing ch. 1 John 2:13-14, 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14, 1 John 4:4; John 17:14 f., and above all after the preceding verse here. For κεῖσθαι ἐν in this sense, there is, as in reff., no other example. That in Polybius, vi. 14. 6, ἐν τῇ συγκλήτῳ κεῖται, “lies in the power or determination of the Senate,” is an approximation, but not quite the same sense. θεῶν ἐν γούνασι κεῖται, so common in Homer, is another. The idea in the power of, and the local idea, seem to be combined. ὁ πονηρός is as it were the inclusive abiding-place and representative of all his, as, in the expressions ἐν κυρίῳ, ἐν χριστῷ, ἐν χριστῷ ἰησοῦ, ἐσμὲν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, 1 John 5:20, the Lord is of His. And while we are ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, implying a birth and a proceeding forth and a change of state, the κόσμος, all the rest of mankind, κεῖται ἐν τ. π., remains where it was, in, and in the power of, ὁ πονηρός. Some Commentators have been anxious to avoid inconsistency with such passages as ch. 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:14, and would therefore give κόσμος a different meaning here. But there is no inconsistency whatever. Had not Christ become a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, were He not the Saviour of the whole world, none could ever come out of the world and believe on Him; but as it is, they who do believe on Him, come out and are separated from the world: so that our proposition here remains strictly true: the κόσμος is the negation of faith in Him, and as such lies in the wicked one, His adversary).


Verse 20

20.] Yet another οἴδαμεν: and that in general, as summing up all, the certainty to us of the Son of God having come, and having given us the knowledge of God, and of our being in Him: and the formal inclusion, in this one fact, of knowledge of the true God here, and life everlasting hereafter. Moreover ( δέ closes off and sums up all: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:20; Hebrews 13:22, al. fr. This not being seen, it has been altered to καί, as there appeared to be no contrast with the preceding) we know that the Son of God is come (the incarnation, and work, and abiding presence of the Son of God, is to us a living fact. HE IS HERE—all is full of Him— ὁ διδάσκαλος πάρεστιν καὶ φωνει σε), and hath given (the subject to δέδωκεν is ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, not, as Bengel, “Deus” understood. It is the Son of God who is to us the bestower of this knowledge, see 1 John 5:13; it is He who is here at the end of the Epistle made prominent, as it is He who is to us eternal life, and he who hath Him hath the Father) to us (an) understanding ( διάνοια, the divinely empowered inner sense by which we judge of things divine: see Beck, Umriss der biblischen Seelenlehre, p. 58. It is not the wisdom or judgment itself, but the faculty capable of attaining to it. Compare John 1:12; John 1:18; John 17:2 f., 6 f., 25 f.; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:18) that we know (with the indic. as in the other places where it occurs, or seems to occur, in the N. T., ἵνα must bear a sort of pregnant sense, of a purpose accomplished or at least secured. See note on ἵνα with the future indicative Galatians 2:4, and cf. Revelation 3:9; Revelation 6:4; Revelation 13:12; Revelation 14:13, and for the present indicative, reff.: and see the whole discussed and examples given from later Greek writers, in Winer, edn. 6, § 41, b. 1. b, c) the true One (i. e. God: cf. John 17:3, ἵνα γινώσκωσίν (- ουσιν al.) σε τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεόν. The adjective ἀληθινόν is not subjective, = ἁληθῆ, but objective, in its usual sense of genuine, in distinction from every ‘deus fictitius.’ So Calvin: “verum Deum intelligit non veracem, sed cum qui revera Deus est eum ab idolis omnibus discernat. Ita verus fictitio opponitur.” And thus the way is prepared for the warning against all false gods, 1 John 5:21): and we are (again, as in 1 John 5:18-19, this second member is an independent proposition, not dependent on the ὅτι nor on the ἵνα as in the vulgate, “et simus …”) in (see above on κεῖται ἐν, 1 John 5:19) the true One (viz. God, as above), in His Son Jesus Christ (i. e. by virtue of our being in His Son Jesus Christ: this second ἐν is not in apposition with, but as αὐτοῦ shews, is epexegetic of the former). This (viz. God, the Father: the ὁ ἀληθινός, who has been twice spoken of: see below) is the true God, and eternal life. There has been great controversy, carried on principally from doctrinal interests, respecting the reference of this οὗτος: whether it is to be understood as above, or of ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦς χριστός, just mentioned. The Fathers who were engaged against Arian error, and most of the orthodox expositors since, regarding the passage as a precious testimony for the Godhead of the Son, have maintained this latter view, rather doctrinally than exegetically. To this list belong Bed(82), Lyra, a-Lapide, Tirinus, Barthol.-Petrus (the continuator of Estius), Mayer, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Aretius, Piscator, Erasm.-Schmidt, Seb.-Schmidt, Spener, Whitby, Calov., Wolf, Joach. Lange, Bengel, Sander, Stier: and even Episcopius takes this view, not being able, says Düsterd., to bear the caprice and tortuousness of the Socinian exegesis. The opposite doctrinal interest has led many of those who deny this application: e. g. Schlichting (who combats the other view simply by abusing the Trinitarians), Socinus, Grotius, Benson, Samuel Clarke, Semler, which last takes οὗτος in as far as it belongs to ἀληθ. θεός as referring to the Father, in as far as to ζωὴ αἰώνιος, to the Son. To these have succeeded another set of expositors with whom not doctrinal but exegetical considerations have been paramount: e. g. Wetstein, Lücke, De Wette, Rickli, Baumg.-Crusius, Neander, Huther, Hofmann (Schriftb. i. 128), Düsterdieck, Erdmann.

The grounds on which the application to Christ is rested are mainly the following: 1) that οὗτος most naturally refers to the last-mentioned substantive: 2) that ζωὴ αἰώνιος, as a predicate, more naturally belongs to the Son than to the Father: 3) that the sentence, if understood of God the Father, would be aimless and tautological. But to these it has been well and decisively answered by Lücke and Düsterd., 1) that οὗτος more than once in St. John belongs not to the nearest substantive, but to the principal one in the foregoing sentence, e. g. in ch. 1 John 2:22 and in 2 John 1:7; and that the subject of the whole here has been the Father, who is the ὁ ἀληθινός of the last verse, and the Son is referred back to Him as ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ, thereby keeping Him, as the primary subject, before the mind. 2) that as little can ζωὴ αἰώνιος be an actual predicate of Christ as of the Father. He is indeed ἡ ζωή ch. 1 John 1:2, but not ἡ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. Such an expression used predicatively, leads us to look for some expression of our Lord’s, or for some meaning which does not appear on the surface to guide us. And such an expression leading to such a meaning we have in John 17:3, αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή, ἵνα γινώσκωσίν σε τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεόν, καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας ἰησοῦν χριστόν. He is eternal life in Himself, as being the fount and origin of it: He is it to us, seeing that to know Him is to possess it. I own I cannot see, after this saying of our Lord with σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθθεόν, how any one can imagine that the same Apostle can have had in these words any other reference than that which is given in those: 3) this charge is altogether inaccurate. As referred to the Father, there is in it no tautology and no aimlessness. It serves to identify the ὁ ἀληθινός mentioned before, in a solemn manner, and leads on to the concluding warning against false gods. As in another place the Apostle intensifies the non-possession of the Son by including in it the alienation from the Father also, so here at the close of all, the ἀληθινὸς θεός, the fount of ζωὴ αἰώνιος, is put before us as the ultimate aim and end, to be approached ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ, but Himself the One Father both of Him and of us who live through Him.


Verse 21

21.] Parting warning against idols. Little children (see reff. He parts from them with his warmest and most affectionate word of address), keep yourselves from idols (the εἴδωλον is properly a figure of an imaginary deity,—while an ὁμοίωμα is that of some real person or thing made into an object of worship. So in an old Etymologicum ineditum in Biel sub voce (Düsterdieck),— τὸ μὲν εἴδωλον οὐδεμίαν ὑπόστασιν ἔχει, τὸ δὲ ὁμοίωμα τινών ἐστιν ἴνδαλμα καὶ ἀπείκασμα. So Romans 1:23, 1 Corinthians 10:19; 1 Corinthians 12:2, and especially ref. 1 Thess., where, as here, θεὸς ζῶν καὶ ἀληθινός is opposed to εἴδωλα. And there seems no justification for the departing from the plain literal sense in this place. All around the Christian Church was heathenism: the born of God and the κείμενοι ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ were the only two classes: those who went out of one, went into the other: God’s children are thus then finally warned of the consequence of letting go the only true God, in whom they can only abide by abiding in His Son Jesus Christ, in these solemn terms,—to leave on their minds a wholesome terror of any the least deviation from the truth of God, seeing into what relapse it would plunge them. This is a more satisfactory view than that taken by Düsterdieck, that having so long and so much warned them against error in Christian doctrine, he could not part without also warning them against that of which they were indeed in less danger, relapse into heathenism:—and far better than that of Hammond, al., that the εἴδωλα were the fictions of Gnostic error).

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/1-john-5.html. 1863-1878.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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