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Bible Commentaries

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 1

1 John 5:1 shows that the believer, as born of God, necessarily loves his brother. The two elements of the Christian life, faith and love, are represented in their real unity.

πᾶς πιστεύων ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστιν χριστός] refers back to chap. 1 John 4:15; comp. 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:2; instead of χριστός, the apostle in 1 John 5:5 puts: νἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ; comp. 1 John 3:23, from which, however, it does not follow that χριστός and υἱὸς τοῦς θεοῦ are to the apostle exactly identical ideas, but certainly that he only is Christ to him, who is also Son of God. That John says here χριστός, is occasioned by the antithesis to the false teachers; comp. on this Weiss, p. 155 ff. Grotius erroneously explains: qui credere se ostendit: it is not the manifestation of faith, but faith itself, that is the subject.

ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται] for faith is not a human, but a divine work in us.(292) This first sentence forms the premiss from which the apostle draws his conclusion. He does not specially emphasize the self-evident intermediate thought: πᾶς γεγεννη΄ένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀγαπᾷ τὸν θεόν, but presupposing it,(293) he says: καὶ πᾶς ἀγαπῶν τὸν γεννήσαντα, ἀγαπᾷ καὶ τὸν γεγεννη΄ένον ἐξ αὐτοῦ] γεγενν. ἐξ αὐτοῦ is not “Christ” (Augustine, Hilarius, a Lapide, etc.), but “the believer;” Calvin correctly: Sub numero singulari omnes fideles Ap. designat. Est autem argumentum ex communi naturae ordine sumptum. By the last thought Calvin rightly indicates why the apostle here says “ τὸν γεννήσαντα” instead of τὸν θεόν, and “ τὸν γεγεννη΄ένον ἐξ αὐτοῦ” instead of τὸν ἀδελφόν.

ἀγαπᾷ is not subjunctive “let him love,” but indicative: “he loves;” John is here expressing not an exhortation, but a fact.


Verse 2

1 John 5:2 states how love to the “children of God” is to be recognised. The sign of it is: ὅταν τὸν θεὸν ἀγαπῶμεν καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν ( ποιῶμεν). The difficulty, that whereas elsewhere the keeping of the commandments or brotherly love is mentioned as the evidence of love to God (or of knowing God), comp. 1 John 2:3, 1 John 4:20-21 here the converse relationship is represented, so that, as de Wette says, “the apostle here makes the cause (love to God) the token of the effect (love to the brethren),” cannot be solved by the arbitrary assumption of an attraction, which Oecumenius supposes when he interprets: δεῖγμα τῆς εἰς θεὸν ἀγάπης τὴν εἰς τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἀγάπην τίθεται, and which Grotius distinctly expresses when he paraphrases: ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι τὸν θεὸν ἀγαῶμεν, ὅταν ἀγαπῶμεν τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν; nor even with de Wette by the view “that τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν is the principal clause, and τὸν θεὸν ἀγαπῶμεν only the anticipated confirmation of it, so that the one result of love to God is put for a token of the other;” but the explanation lies in this, that these two elements, “love to God” and “love to the brethren as children of God,” in reality mutually prove one another.(294) By the addition of the words: καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν, it is brought out that love to God necessarily shows itself in the obedient keeping of His commandments. This obedience, rooted in love to God, is equally with the former the token of true brotherly love, because the commandments of God include the duties which we owe to the brethren. He therefore who regards it as incumbent on him to fulfil God’s commandments, possesses therein the evidence that he loves his brethren, the τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ, that his love to them is not mere appearance, but reality; similarly Lücke, Sander, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ewald, Düsterdieck, Braune, interpret; Calvin, on the other hand, gives the thought an erroneous direction when he says: “nunc docet, recte et ordine amari homines, quum Dens priores obtinet; vult sic mutuam coli inter nos caritatem, ut Deus praeferatur.”

It is further to be observed that the first ἀγαπῶμεν is neither subjunctive nor used instead of the future (Carpzov, Lange), but is simple indicative; and that ὅταν is not = quamdiu (Carpzov, Lange), but conditional particle, as ἐάν, chap. 1 John 2:3.


Verse 3

1 John 5:3 refers to the last two ideas, which were simply mentioned co-ordinatively, and expresses their unity: αὕτη γάρ ἐστιν ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ] αὕτη is explained by the following ἵνα.

ἐστίν is to be kept in its proper meaning, though ἵνα follows; the paraphrase: “it brings this with it, it includes the endeavour” (de Wette), weakens the thought; ἵνα states the import of the ἀγάπη τ. θεοῦ, to the realization of which it is directed. Quite incorrectly Grotius takes ἀγάπη metonymically for: ostensio dilectionis.

καὶ αἱ ἐντολαὶ αὐτοῦ βαρεῖαι οὐκ εἰσίν is connected with the preceding as a new idea; βαρεῖαι = “heary, as an oppressive burden;”(295) comp. Luke 11:46 : φορτία δυσβάστακτα, and Matthew 11:30 : φορτίον ἐλαφρόν. It is grammatically incorrect to explain βαρεῖαι: “difficult to fulfil” (Ebrard). The idea is, indeed, expressed absolutely, but from the confirmation that follows in 1 John 5:4 it is evident that the apostle meant it in special reference to those who are born of God.


Verse 4

1 John 5:4. Confirmation of the preceding thought.

πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ] The neuter is used here as in Gospel of John 3:6; John 6:37; John 17:2; it serves “to bring out the general category;” see Meyer on John 3:6; comp. Winer, p. 160; according to the sense = πάντες οἱ κ. τ. λ.; it is not the disposition, but persons that are meant. Quite erroneous is the remark of Baumgarten-Crusius: “the γεγενν. ἐκ τ. θ. has here only an external signification: whatever has the position of God’s children.”

νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον] for: μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν αὐτοῖς, ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, chap. 1 John 4:4.

νικᾷ is the simple present; in the conflict between the κόσμος and him who is born of God, the latter is constantly gaining the victory. Baumgarten-Crusius unsatisfactorily explains νικᾷν by “to keep oneself innocent;” this does not exhaust the idea of victory; that is not obtained when we take our stand against the enemy, but only when the enemy is overcome. The completion of the victory in its full sense certainly only takes place with the second coming of Christ.

Rickli and de Wette explain κόσμος by “love of the world and of self;” better Lücke, Calvin, Sander, Düsterdieck, Brückner, etc.: “all that strives against the will of God within and without man;” but even this is too abstract. It is the kingdom of the wicked one which, under its prince the devil, striving against the kingdom of God, seeks to tempt the believer to unbelief and disobedience to the divine commands.

As the apostle wants to show how he that is born of God overcomes the world, he continues: καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν νίκη νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον πίστις ἡμῶν. The pronoun αὕτη refers to πίστις ἡμῶν, which in its import is no other than the πίστις, ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστὶν υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, 1 John 5:5. The expression is peculiar, inasmuch as faith is described as the νίκη itself, and the νικᾷν is ascribed to it. Lorinus rightly remarks: victoria proprie non vincit, sed comparatur pugnando, sed energiam continet ea formula, denotans in quo sita sit vincendi ratio, unde victoria parta.(296) The aorist νικήσασα is not to be turned into the present (a Lapide, Lorinus, Grotius, etc.); even though the victory is a continuous one, in which every believer is constantly taking part, the aorist nevertheless indicates that faith from the beginning overcame the world. The explanation of Baumgarten-Crusius: “it is already victory won that ye have become believers” (similarly Neander), is incorrect; it is not here intended to commend faith as the result of a fight, but as that which fights, and which has won the victory; hence the active νικήσασα (so also Braune).


Verse 5

1 John 5:5. Confirmation of the preceding thought by an appeal to the experience of the readers (Lücke).

τίς ἐστιν νικῶν κ. τ. λ.] The same form of speech as in chap. 1 John 2:22. The thought is: “Credens omnis et solus vincit” (Bengel). With ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ. comp. 1 John 5:1, chap. 1 John 2:22, 1 John 3:23.

The believer is victorious because he is born of God; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4 (Düsterdieck).


Verse 6

1 John 5:6. In order to arrive at an understanding of this verse we must first of all look at the expression: ἔρχεσθαι διʼ ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος. The question, what is to be understood by ὕδωρ and αἷμα, has been answered in very different ways. The explanations worthy of notice are these:—1. That the apostle means thereby the blood and water which flowed from Christ’s side on the cross, John 19:34; this explanation is found in Augustine, Vatablus, and many of the old commentators; but some of them consider that the apostle here mentions this water and blood as the proof of the actual occurrence of the death of Christ, others that he uses them as symbols of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 2. That by ὕδωρ and αἷμα are to be understood the sacraments appointed by Christ; this is the explanation of Wolf (who, however, understands an allusion to the incident recorded in John 19:34), S. Schmid, Carpzovius, Baur, Sander, Besser, and others.(297) 3. That by ὕδωρ John means the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, and by αἷ΄α the atoning death which He suffered. This is the explanation of Tertullian, Theophylact, Cappellus, Heumann, Semler, Storr, Lange, Baumgarten-Crusius, Hilgenfeld, Neander, Ewald,(298) Brückner, Lücke (3d ed. Introd. p. 160; comp. Bertheau’s note on this passage, p. 381), Erdmann, Myrberg, Weiss, Braune, etc. Not a few commentators, however, divide the explanation, understanding ὕδωρ of the baptism appointed by Christ, and αἷ΄α of His own death; so Hornejus, Knapp, Lücke (in the comm. on this passage; also in the 3d ed., Introd. p. 110; differently, Introd. p. 160), de Wette, Rickli, Gerlach, Frommann (p. 596), Düsterdieck, etc.(299)

By many commentators (as Bede, a Lapide, Russmeyer, Spener, Bengel, etc.) different interpretations are connected together in one or the other of these ways.(300)

To these interpretations may be added others, the arbitrariness of which is evident at the first glance. To this class the following belong:—1. That by ὕδωρ and αἷμα John denotes the two elements of the physical life of Jesus; this is the view of Schulthess. Wetstein adds even the following πνεῦμα, and says that the apostle wants to prove that Christ was a verus homo, who was formed ex spiritu, sanguine et aqua sive humore.(301) 2. That by both words, or at least by ὓδωρ, the ethical nature of Christ is indicated; thus Grotius interprets διʼ ὓδατος = per vitam purissimam, quae per aquam significari solet. Socinus understands by ὓδωρ: ipsa doctrina pura cum vitae puritate conjuncta. 3. That in ὓδωρ and αἷ΄α it is not so much the baptism and death of Christ themselves that are to be thought of, as rather the testimonies that were given in connection with them; in ὓδωρ the testimony of the divine voice in the baptism (Wahl); in αἷ΄α either the testimony of the good centurion (Stroth), or the events that followed the death of Jesus, namely His resurrection and ascension (Wahl, Ziegler, Lange), or even the testimony of God in John 12:28 (Oecumenius).(302) 4. That in these two expressions we are to consider the operations brought into exercise by Christ; in ὕδωρ, regeneratio et fides (Clemens Al.), or purgatio (Cameron); in αἷμα, cognitio (Clemens Al.), or expiatio (Cameron), or redemptio (Bullinger). To this class belongs also Calvin’s explanation: ego existimo Joannem hic fructum et effectum exprimere ejus rei, quam in historia evangelica narrat. Christi latus sanguinis et aquae fons erat, ut scirent fideles, veram munditiem (cujus figurae erant veteres baptismi) in eo sibi constare: ut scirent etiam completum, quod omnes sanguinis aspersiones olim promiserant. 5. That those expressions and πνεῦμα are descriptive of the threefold redemptive office of Christ: that ὓδωρ (= coelestis doctrini; Bullinger) represents Him as prophet, αἷμα as priest, and πνεῦμα as king. Here may be added the strange explanation of ὓδωρ as the tears which Jesus shed on various occasions, and of αἷμα as the blood which He shed at His circumcision. Again, some of the old commentators understood by αἷμα the blood of the martyrs.

It is at all events incorrect to permit ourselves, in the interpretation of ὕδωρ and αἷμα, to be led by the question as to the nature of their testimony (Sander: “It must be maintained as the chief difficulty in the passage before us, what are the three witnesses on earth”), for that is not the subject in this verse, in which the πνεῦμα only is mentioned as bearing witness.(303) By the words: οὗτός ἐστιν κ. τ. λ., the apostle simply states who Jesus the Son of God is.

With regard to the expression: ἐλθὼν διʼ κ. τ. λ., most commentators interpret as if it were: “ οὗτος ἔρχεται,” or: “ οὗτός ἐστιν ἐρχόμενος.” Others, it is true, have not overlooked the aorist, but they interpret it as if it expressed something present; thus Sander = “has come and comes,” against which Bengel rightly says: non dicit: ἐρχόμενος in Praesenti, sed ἐλθών Aoristo tempore, Praeteriti vim habenti. It is true, it is further correct when, in opposition to de Wette, who takes ἐλθών as synonymous with ἐληλυθώς, chap. 1 John 4:2, Brückner objects that by the aorist as a purely historic tense nothing continuous or permanent is expressed; but even then the expression does not obtain complete justice. It is to be observed that John did not write “ ἦλθε,” or “ ἐστὶν ἐλθών,” but ἐστὶν ἐλθών. By the participle with the definite article, it is not a verbal, but a nominal, and, if it is not in apposition to a preceding substantive (as in John 1:18; John 1:29; John 3:13; John 6:44, and passim), a substantive idea that is expressed; comp. John 1:15; John 1:33; John 3:31; John 3:36, and many other passages. It therefore does not mean “this came,” or “this is one who came,” but “this is he that came;” by this predicate it is not merely stated what the subject which is here spoken of (namely, οὗτος) has done, but the subject is thereby characterized as the particular person to whom this predicate is suitable as a specific characteristic; according to the analogy of John 1:33 ( οὗτός ἐστιν βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ), 1 John 3:13 ( ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς), and other passages, the expression therefore serves to state something characteristic of the Messianic office of Christ. If this is taken into consideration, the incorrectness of Augustine’s interpretation (see above) follows; for even if the flowing of the blood and water from the side of Jesus was intended by John not so much as a proof of the actual occurrence of Christ’s death (Lücke), but as a wonder proving the Messiahship of Jesus (Meyer on John 19:34), yet this would be only a very subordinate proof, which by no means states a characteristic sign of the Messiah as such.

In the life of Jesus there are two points which correspond with the expressions ὕδωρ and αἷμα, namely, His baptism at the beginning of His Messianic work, and His bloody death at the end of it; by His baptism Jesus entered on His mediatorial work; it formed the initiatio (Erdmann, Myrberg) of it, but this did not take place only by means of what happened at the baptism, but by the act of baptism itself; by His death he effected the atonement itself, inasmuch as by His blood he blotted out the guilt of the sinful world, for χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις (Hebrews 9:22). John may with justice therefore describe Christ as the Mediator by calling Him the one who came διʼ ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος.(304) Against the view that ὕδωρ and αἷμα are to be understood of the sacraments instituted by Christ, is not only the circumstance that these are only the means for the appropriation of the atonement effected by Him, whereas the subject here is the accomplishment of the atonement itself, but also the use of the aorist ἐλθών, instead of which, in that case, the present would have to be used, and also the expression αἷμα, which by itself alone never in the N. T. signifies the Lord’s Supper; even in 1 Corinthians 12:13 ἐποτίσθησαν is not an allusion to the Lord’s Supper, but to the communication of the Spirit in baptism. In opposition to the idea that αἷμα indeed signifies the death which Christ suffered, but that ὕδωρ does not denote the baptism which He received, but the baptism which He instituted, are—(1) that the close connection of the two words (without repetition of διά before αἵματος) is only suitable if the ideas correspond with one another, which is not the case if by διʼ ὕδατος we understand an institution of Christ, but by αἵματος, on the other hand, the blood shed by Christ;(305) (2) that the simple expression ὓδωρ is little suited for a description of Christian baptism;(306) (3) that as the institution of baptism took place after the death of Christ, and necessarily presupposes it, John, if he had understood by ὕδωρ Christian baptism, would certainly have put ὕδατος, not before, but after αἵματος. Hilgenfeld and Neander have rightly shown that if ἔρχεσθαι διʼ αἵματος signifies something pertaining to the Messiah personally, the same must be the case with ἔρχεσθαι διʼ ὕδατος. The connection must be the same in both expressions. If by αἷμα is meant the death which Christ underwent, then by ὕδωρ can therefore only be meant the baptism which He likewise underwent.

The objection of Knapp (with whom Lücke and Sander agree), that ἐλθὼν διʼ ὕδατος in this sense is much more appropriately said of John the Baptist than of Christ, is untenable, for that expression may at least just as well be used of him who allowed himself to be baptized as of him who baptized; Erdmann: sane id non alius momenti, ac si quis objiceret, ἔρχεσθαι διʼ αἵματος non posse dici de Christi sanguine et morte, sed potius de iis, qui cruentam mortem ei paraverint. There is just as little in the objection of Lücke, that Christ allowed Himself to be baptized, not in order to purify Himself, but to fulfil all righteousness; since two ideas are here placed in antagonism to one another, which are by no means mutually exclusive, as Jesus underwent the baptism of purification just for the very purpose of fulfilling all righteousness.

With regard to the expression ἐλθὼν διά, διά is not to be separated from ἐλθὼν, so that ἐλθών in itself would denote “the Saviour who came,” and διʼ κ. τ. λ. would state “in what way Jesus is the Saviour who came” (Hofmann in the Schriftbew. 2d ed. p. 469); for that Christ is called ἐρχόμενος (Matthew 11:4; Luke 7:19-20) does not confirm, but contradicts this interpretation; besides, John does not here want to bring out how Jesus is the Messiah, but that He is so. The preposition διά has been differently explained; usually it is here taken simply in the sense of accompaniment, which, however, is unjustifiable; in this commentary, with reference to Hebrews 9:12 (where it is indicated by διά that the high priest entered into the holy place by means of the blood which he had with him), the idea of instrumentality is combined with that of accompaniment, inasmuch as Jesus operated as mediator by means of ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα; similarly Brückner explains διά as a preposition of instrumentality, namely, in the passive sense, as “by which he was proved;διά, however, is here connected neither with an idea of operation nor of verification, but with ἐλθών. Weiss takes the preposition in this way, that ὕδωρ κ. αἷμα are thereby “introduced as historical elements of the life of Christ through which His career passed;” but it might be more suitable to interpret διʼ ὕδ. κ. τ. λ. in this way, that thereby the elements are brought out by which the ἐλθών was specially characterized; just as in 2 Corinthians 5:7 by διὰ πίστεως the feature is mentioned by which our present περιπατεῖν is characterized; comp. also Romans 8:24 : διʼ ὑπομονῆς ἀπεκδεχόμεθα, and Hebrews 12:1; Braune simply abides by the idea of instrumentality, without further explaining himself on the subject. The question, whether οὗτος refers to ἰησοῦς or to υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, is to be answered in this way, that it refers to the whole idea: ἰησοῦς υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ; Jesus, the Son of God, is the subject of Christian faith; it is He who came by water and blood. In favour of this reference is the addition ἰησοῦς χριστός, which, as ἰησοῦς shows, is not an explanatory apposition of the predicate (“He who came by water and blood,” i.e. Christ), but is in apposition to the subject οὗτος, which is more particularly defined by the predicate; the preceding, ἰησοῦς υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ is thereby resumed, but in this way, that in consequence of ἐλθὼν κ. τ. λ. the idea υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ is changed into χριστός.

The import of the preceding lies, as cannot be doubted, simply in the statement which is therein contained; Ebrard, indeed, thinks that the apostle wants thereby to express “that in the loving and merciful act of the devotion of Jesus to death lies the power by which He has overcome the world;” but although in the preceding the victory over the world is ascribed to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, yet it is not to be inferred from this that it is Christ’s victory over the world that is the subject here, as John does not make the most remote suggestion of that.

By the words: οὐκ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι μόνον ἀλλʼ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι καὶ τῷ αἵματι, the apostle brings out with special emphasis the fact that Jesus did not come by water only, but by both water and blood; as the latter two, in their combination, are contrasted with the former one, the principal emphasis plainly falls on the blood, as that by which the Mediator as such has operated. This emphasis is not intended for the purpose of indicating the difference between Jesus and John the Baptist (Lücke, de Wette, Düsterdieck, Ebrard); for, on the one hand, it is self-evident to Christians that Jesus would not be the mediator if He had not acted differently from John; and, on the other hand, the feature which distinguishes Jesus from John in regard to baptism is this, that the latter baptized with water, but the former baptizes with the Holy Ghost.(307) The addition has a polemic import (not against “disciples of John,” Ewald, but) against the Docetans, who in a certain sense indeed taught that Christ came διʼ ὕδατος, but denied that He came διʼ αἵματος, inasmuch as, according to their heresy, Christ united Himself with Jesus at His baptism, but separated from Him again before His death (Erdmann, Myrberg, Weiss, Braune); indeed, it is only by the reference to these heretics, against whom the apostle frequently directs a polemic in the Epistle, that the whole section from 1 John 5:6 to 1 John 5:12 can be explained.

With regard to grammar, it is to be observed that μόνον is not connected with οὐ, but with ὕδατι, and therefore there can be no καί after ἀλλά, which is not observed by A. Buttmann (p. 317). The preposition ἐν simply expresses the idea of accompaniment without bringing out the accessory notion which lies in διά; comp. Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:25.

The definite article before ὕδατι and αἵματι is explained by the fact that both have been already mentioned. Bengel correctly: Articulus habet vim relativam.

καὶ τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ μαρτυροῦν] Just as in regard to ὕδωρ and αἷμα, so in regard to πνεῦμα the views of commentators vary very much. The following opinions are to be rejected as utterly arbitrary:—(1) that it denotes the psychical element, which, with αἷμα and ὕδωρ as the physical elements, constituted the human nature of Christ (Wetstein); (2) that it is the spirit which Christ at His death committed into His Father’s hands (Augustine, etc.); (3) that it means “the teaching of Jesus” (Carpzovius); (4) that τὸ πνεῦμα is = πνευματικός, whereby John means himself (Ziegler, Stroth). By τὸ πνεῦμα can only be understood either the Holy Ghost Himself or the spiritual life produced by Him in believers.(308) Against the latter view there are, however, two reasons:—(1) that τὸ πνεῦ΄α never has this meaning without a more particular definition indicating it; and (2) that the τὸ ΄αρτυροῦν, which is added, here defines the πνεῦ΄α as something specifically different from the subjective life of man. We must therefore understand by it the objective Spirit of God, yet not, however, inasmuch as He descended on Christ at His baptism, and testified to Him as the Messiah, nor inasmuch as He was in Christ as the divine power which manifested itself in His miracles,(309) but (as most commentators correctly interpret) the Holy Ghost, whom Christ sent to His disciples at Pentecost, and who is the permanent possession of His Church. The predicate ἐστι τὸ μαρτυροῦν is not put for μαρτυρεῖ or for ἐστὶ μαρτυροῦν; here also the article must not be overlooked; τὸ μαρτυροῦν is a nominal idea, and, moreover, not adjectival, but substantive: “the Spirit is the witness” (Lücke). The office of witnessing belongs essentially to the Holy Ghost; comp. John 15:26.(310)

As the apostle continues: ὅτι τὸ πνεῦ΄ά ἐστιν ἀλήθεια, he seems thereby to state the object of ΄αρτυρεῖν;(311) but this view is opposed to the whole context, according to which the apostle does not want to bring out that the Spirit is truth, but: “that Jesus the Son of God is the Christ.” Therefore ὅτι here must, with Gerhard, Calovius, and most modern commentators (de Wette, Lücke, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Myrberg, Braune), be taken as causal particle, so that the subordinate clause serves to strengthen the preceding thought. It is because the Spirit is the truth that the Spirit is the witness in the fullest sense of the word.

To interpret ἀλήθεια = ἀληθές (Grotius) is to weaken the thought; by the definite article the idea ἀλήθεια is indicated in its full concrete vividness; comp. John 14:6, where Christ calls Himself ἀλήθεια. Weiss calls attention to the way in which this designation proves the personality of the Spirit, inasmuch as “the truth is the nature of God Himself made manifest.”

The object which is to be supplied with τὸ μαρτυροῦν can be no other than the thought which John has previously expressed in the first half of the verse.


Verses 6-12

1 John 5:6-12. That Jesus is the Son of God, is confirmed by divine testimony.


Verse 7

1 John 5:7. By means of the witness of the Spirit, water and blood also attain to the position of witnesses. As such John now adduces them in connection with the Spirit, in order by the weight of this threefold witness to confirm the truth that the Son of God, who is identical with Jesus, is the Messiah.

The ὅτι which begins the verse means neither: “jam vero” (Grotius, Calov), nor: “hence” (Meyer), nor: “consequently” (Baumgarten-Crusius), but: “for.” This connection with the foregoing is explained by the fact that the truth of the testimony of the Holy Ghost (who is the truth itself) is strengthened by the circumstance that it is not He alone that bears witness, but that with Him the water and the blood bear witness also, as the two elements by means of which the atonement took place (similarly Lücke);(312) de Wette unnecessarily supplies: “and, humanly considered, the witness is also true, for.” Paulus connects 1 John 5:9, as consequent, with this verse as antecedent: “because there are three, etc., then, if, etc., the witness of God is much greater.” This construction, which is contrary to the style of John, is the more to he rejected as an erroneous idea arises from it.

τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες] The masculine is used because the three that are mentioned are regarded as concrete witnesses (Lücke, etc.), but not because they are “types of men representing these three” (Bengel),(313) or symbols of the Trinity (as they are interpreted in the Scholion of Matthaei, p. 138, mentioned in the critical notes). It is uncertain whether John brings out this triplicity of witnesses with reference to the well-known legal rule, Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, etc., as several commentators suppose. It is not to be deduced from the present that ὕδωρ and αἷμα are things still at present existing, and hence the sacraments, for by means of the witness of the Spirit the whole redemptive life of Christ is permanently present, so that the baptism and death of Jesus—although belonging to the past—prove Him constantly to be the Messiah who makes atonement for the world (so also Braune). The participle οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, instead of the substantive οἱ μάρτυρες, emphasizes more strongly the activity of the witnessing.

τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα] All these three expressions have here, of course, the same meaning as previously.(314)

καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν] Luther inaccurately: “and these three are one;” τὸ ἕν is the one specific object of the witness; “the three are directed to this one,” namely, in their thus unanimous witness. Storr inaccurately: “they serve one cause, they promote one and the same object, namely, the object previously mentioned (v. 1, 5).”

REMARK.

According to the Rec., after οἱ μαρτυροῦντες appear the words: ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷοἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ (see the critical notes). Luther says in reference to them: “It appears as if this verse was inserted by the orthodox against the Arians, which, however, cannot suitably be done, because both here and there he speaks not of witnesses in heaven, but of witnesses on earth.” With this most modern commentators agree, with the exception of Besser and Sander. It is true that, if we consider the contents of the whole Epistle, the idea of the three witnesses in heaven may be brought into connection with something or other that appears in the Epistle; but it does not follow from this that that idea has here a suitable or even a necessary place. This plainly is not the case, so much the more, as neither in what follows nor in what immediately precedes, with which 1 John 5:7 is closely connected by ὅτι, is there the slightest reference to such a witness of the Trinity. There are clear and intelligible grounds in the foregoing for adducing the three witnesses: πνεῦμα, ὓδωρ, αἷμα, but not for adducing the three witnesses: πατήρ, λόγος, τὸ πνεῦμα ἅγιον; this trinity appears quite unprepared for; but the sequel is also opposed to it, for it makes it unintelligible what witness is meant by the μαρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ, 1 John 5:9, whether that of the three in heaven, or that of the three on earth.

To this it may be added that these two different classes of witnesses appear together quite unconnected; it is said, indeed, that these three witnesses agree in one, but not in what relationship the two threes stand to one another.

Besides, however, the idea in itself is utterly obscure; for what are we to understand by a witness in heaven? Bengel, it is true (with whom Sander agrees), says: “non fertur testimonium in coelo, sed in terra: qui autem testantur, sunt in terra, sunt in coelo; i.e. illi sunt naturae terrestris et humanae, hi autem naturae divinae et gloriosae.” How untenable, however, this is, is shown, on the one hand, in the fact that ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ does not belong to εἰσιν, but rather to μαρτυροῦντες, and the text therefore does not speak of being, but of bearing witness, in heaven; and, on the other hand, in the fact that according to it the πνεῦμα which is connected with ὓδωρ and αἷμα must be regarded as something earthly and human.

There is further the un-Johannean character of the diction, as by John θεός and λόγος, and similarly πατήρ and υἱός, are certainly conjoined, but never πατήρ and λόγος; Sander avails himself of the assumption, which is certainly very easy, of a ἅπαξ λεγόμενον; but this is here unwarrantable, for those ideas are so frequently occurring in John—and that mode of conjunction is not accidental, but is grounded on the nature of the case. We see that the interpolator wrote λόγος, because this suggested itself to him as a genuine Johannean expression, without reflecting that its connection with πατήρ is un-Johannean. Finally, the καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι is also strange. Bengel interprets: unum sunt essentia, notitia, voluntate, atque adeo consensu testimonii. Bengel with justice puts the essentiality first, for it is just this that is denoted by the expression—but just this is unsuitable here, where the subject rather is the unity of the witness.


Verse 9

1 John 5:9 brings out the greatness of the witness of God, and our obligation to accept it. The two clauses which are here connected with one another do not perfectly correspond in form; for in the antecedent clause the idea that corresponds to the μείζων of the consequent clause is not expressed, nor in the consequent clause the idea that corresponds to the λαμβάνομεν of the antecedent. The sentence, if completed, would run: If we receive the witness of men because it is of some value, much more must we receive the witness of God, as it has a much greater value (comp. A. Buttm. p. 338). The sentence contains a conclusion ex minore ad majus. The conjunction εἰ, as frequently, is not dubitative.

Brückner justly says, in opposition to Baur: “The witness of men is only alluded to on the side of its judicial value; there is not assumed to be in it an import which would be equal to that of the witness of God by water and blood and spirit.”(315)

΄αρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ is here used quite generally; the more particular definition is only given by the sequel (so also Düsterdieck).

ὅτι αὓτη ἐστὶν ΄αρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ] With ὅτι it seems necessary to supply a thought to which it refers; Lücke supplies the thought: “if we accept the witness of God, we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;” Düsterdieck, with whom Braune agrees: “a witness of God now really exists, namely this …;” but such a supplement is not necessary if we suppose that the clause beginning with ὅτι is intended to give the reason of the contrast of the human and of the divine witness which here appears, in this sense: “I say, μαρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ, for …”

In the reading: ὅτι (instead of ἥν) ΄ε΄αρτύρηκε περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, which is attested by the best manuscripts, this second ὅτι may be taken as causal particle, in which case αὓτη would be referred to the witness spoken of in 1 John 5:6-7, in this sense: “for this is the witness of God, since He has testified (it) of His Son;” but the want of an αὐτός before ΄ε΄αρτύρηκε is an obstacle to this view; it is therefore better to interpret ὅτι by “that,” and to refer αὕτη to this sentence which begins with ὅτι (Lücke, Erdmann, Düsterdieck, Myrberg, Ebrard, Ewald, Brückner, Braune), so that the sense is: for this is (therein consists) the witness of God, that He has testified of His Son. By this witness we are to understand no other than that which was spoken of in the preceding, namely, the objective witness of the Spirit, not the internal witness, of which the apostle does not speak until afterwards (contrary to Düsterdieck), but still less, as Ebrard interprets, the witness in John 1:33.

With the reading ἥν, αὓτη must be referred back to the preceding; the sense then is: “for that (1 John 5:6-7) is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.”(316)

The perfect ΄ε΄αρτύρηκε is here to be taken in the same way as John frequently uses the perfect, namely, in this way, that the witness which God has given is to be regarded as permanently remaining.


Verse 10

1 John 5:10. God’s testimony of His Son has for its object faith in the Son of God. Hence: “He that believeth on the Son hath the witness in himself.

τὴν μαρτυρίαν, i.e. the witness of God which was previously spoken of; ἔχει ἐν ἑαυτῷ, i.e. the witness is no longer merely external to him, but by virtue of his faith he has it in (not as Luther translates: “with”) himself; the external has become internal to him. This thought forms the transition to that contained in 1 John 5:11. The believer, namely, has the objective witness in himself, inasmuch as he experiences in his soul the power of the truth attested by God; yet τὴν μαρτυρίαν must not here be understood—as in 1 John 5:11—of this operation itself (contrary to Düsterdieck). In the interpretation: “he accepts the witness,”—for which, corresponding to the ἔχει, it should at least be put: “he has accepted it,”—the preposition ἐν does not receive due justice.

In the following negative sentence, by which the thought expressed is strengthened and extended, we must supply with τῷ θεῷ (instead of which τῷ υἱῷ is not to be read), “ τῷ μεμαρτυρηκότι.

ψευστὴν πεποίηκεν αὐτόν] see chap. 1 John 1:10. In his unbelief, the witness of God is regarded by him as a lie, and God, who has given it, therefore as a liar.

This thought is confirmed by the following words: “for he believeth not (has not become a believer) in the record which God has given (as a permanent record) of His Son.

With the participle πιστεύων, which describes a general class (not a single particular individual), μή is used; but with the finite verb πεπίστευκεν it is οὐ, because thereby the πιστεύειν of those that belong to that class is exactly and directly denied (comp. chap. 1 John 2:4, 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14, 1 John 4:8).(317)


Verse 11

states in what way that witness of God shows itself as internal to the believer; to him who, by believing, has the objective witness of God in himself, it is no longer purely objective, but he experiences it in himself as a divine power, or as the ζωὴ αἰώνιος which God has given him

1 John 5:11 states in what way that witness of God shows itself as internal to the believer; to him who, by believing, has the objective witness of God in himself, it is no longer purely objective, but he experiences it in himself as a divine power, or as the ζωὴ αἰώνιος which God has given him.(318) Hence the apostle says: “And this is the record, ὅτι ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔδωκεν ἡμῖν θεός.” With ἡ΄ῖν, τοῖς πεπιστευκόσιν is to be mentally supplied.

ζωὴ αἰώνιος is not “the hope of eternal life” (Bede: dedit nobis vitam aeternam, sed adhuc in terra peregrinantibus in spe, quam daturus est in coelis ad se pervenientibus in re), but it is this itself, the divine life, of which the believer is even here a partaker; what the believer hopes for, that he has already.

ζωὴν αἰώνιον, as the principal idea, is put first.

ἔδωκεν means: “he gave;” it is not = promisit (Socinus), nor does it express merely the firmitatem et certitudinem promissionis divinae (a Lapide).

Myrberg incorrectly finds the import of the μαρτυρία of God stated in ὅτι κ. τ. λ., which is in opposition to the context. The second part of the verse: καὶ αὓτη ζωὴ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν, which is not dependent on ὅτι (Baumgarten-Crusius), but forms a co-ordinate principal clause, gives a further explanation in regard to ζωὴ αἰώνιος. Several commentators find this thought expressed in these words, that we possess the ζωὴ αἰών. in the Son, i.e. in fellowship with the Son; but this the words do not say; they rather state where the ζωὴ αἰών., which God gave to believers, had its original place, namely, in the Son; comp. John 1:4. Frommann (p. 405): “the eternal life of which the Christian is by faith a partaker, is one with the life that dwells in Christ” (so also Düsterdieck, etc.). Braune incorrectly separates αὓτη from ζωή, as he puts ἐστίν between them in the thought, and refers αὓτη to the idea αἰώνιος: “and this … namely, αἰώνιος … is the life,” etc.


Verse 12

1 John 5:12 states the inference from the immediately preceding thought. If the ζωή is originally in the Son, then he who has the Son has with him also the ζωή. With ἔχων τὸν υἱόν, comp. chap. 1 John 2:23. Changing and weakening the sense, Grotius puts for τὸν υἱόν: verba ilia quae Pater Filio mandavit; even ἔχει τὴν ζωήν he erroneously explains by: jus certum ad vitam aeternam. Whilst John in the first clause says simply τὸν υἱόν, in the second he adds τοῦ θεοῦ; on this Bengel remarks: habet versus duo cola; in priore non additur Dei, nam fideles norunt Filium; in altero additur, ut demum sciant fideles, quanti sit, non habere.


Verse 13

1 John 5:13. Many commentators (Lorinus, Spener, Bengel, Rickli, Baumgarten-Crusius, Lücke, Sander, Düsterdieck, Braune) make the conclusion of the Epistle begin with this verse (“a sort of concluding section,” Ebrard), referring ταῦτα to the whole Epistle. This, however, is incorrect. That this verse also belongs to the last leading section beginning at 1 John 3:23, is shown not only by the idea ζωὴν αἰώνιον, which refers to what immediately precedes, but also by the idea πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, which refers back to 1 John 3:23; besides, it is to be observed that the following sentences, 1 John 5:14-15, correspond to the thought with which the preceding leading section ended; comp. 1 John 3:21-22. Accordingly, ταῦτα is not to be referred to the whole Epistle, but to the last section, 1 John 5:6-12 (Brückner), which reaches its climax in the thought: ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν; comp. 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:21; 1 John 2:26. In the words: ἵνα εἰδῆτε, ὅτι ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον, John states the object for which he wrote that which is contained in the foregoing. The certainty of the life which is bestowed on him is so much the more necessary to the Christian’s mind, as this is sometimes hidden from him in the struggles of life—the life is there, but at times like a hidden treasure. That the possession of this life, however, is conditioned by faith, the apostle brings out especially by an additional clause, which indeed runs differently in the different codices (see the critical remarks), but in its different forms expresses essentially the same thought; according to the probable reading, it is connected with ὑμῖν; according to A, however, with ἔχετε. The second clause in the Rec: καὶ ἵνα πιστεύητε εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, indicates as the second object the adherence to faith; with the phrase: πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα, comp. chap. 1 John 3:23.


Verse 14

1 John 5:14, as the preliminary καί shows, is not the beginning of a new section (contrary to de Wette); but the thought expressed here is in close connection with the foregoing, inasmuch as the παῤῥησία is an essential element of the ζωὴ αἰώνιος. As in chap. 1 John 3:21-22, so here also, παῤῥησία is the confidence which the believer experiences in the certainty that his prayer is heard.

αὕτη ἐστὶν παῤῥησία does not mean: “hence arises also a happy spirit” (Ziegler), but “herein consists the confidence” (de Wette).

ἣν ἔχομεν πρὸς αὐτόν] αὐτόν does not refer to the Son, but to God; though God is not previously mentioned as the subject, yet He is nevertheless considered as the principal subject, as the One who gives life through the Son.

ὅτι] Lücke (with whom Ebrard agrees, with the incorrect remark that ὅτι does not depend on αὕτη, but simply on παῤῥησία) supplies before ὅτι: “that we have the confidence;” but the concise thought of the apostle is thereby weakened, and besides the παῤῥησία is itself this confidence (Düsterdieck).

ἐάν τι αἰτώμεθα κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ] By means of κατὰ τ. θέλ. αὐτοῦ, i.e. τοῦ θεοῦ, prayer is more particularly defined as to its substance and character.

ἀκούει ἡμῶν] In chap. 1 John 3:22 it is put instead of this: λαμβάνομεν ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ.

ἀκούειν includes the idea of granting, which, however, is not brought definitely out until the following verse.


Verse 15

1 John 5:15. καὶ ἐὰν οἴδαμεν. By the indicative after ἐάν (see on this, Winer, p. 264; VII. p. 277; Al. Buttmann, p. 191 ff.) this knowledge is emphasized as something undoubtedly belonging to the believer; differently 1 John 5:16 : ἐάν τις ἴδῃ.

ὅτι ἀκούει ἡμῶν, ἐὰν ( ἂν) αἰτώμεθα] Resumption of what was previously stated.

οἴδαμεν, ὅτι κ. τ. λ.] In the certainty that God hears us lies also the certainty: ὅτι ἔχομεν τὰ αἰτήματα ᾐτήκαμεν ἀπ ̓ ( παρ ̓) αὐτοῦ.

ἔχομεν is neither = λαμβάνομεν, nor is the present put for the future (Grotius); the present is rather to be kept in its proper meaning; the believer always has that for which he has asked God ( κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ); he has God, and in Him all things.

τὰ αἰτήματα are the res petitae (Lorinus).

ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ from its position is not to be connected with ἔχομεν, but with ᾐτήκαμεν; comp. Matthew 20:20; Acts 3:2; differently chap. 1 John 3:22 : λαμβάνομεν ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ.


Verse 16

1 John 5:16. The apostle applies the general thought expressed in 1 John 5:15 to a particular case, namely, to a prayer for one’s brother when one sees him committing sin.

ἐάν τις ἴδῃ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὑτοῦ] By ἐάν with the subjunctive the possibility is simply stated. By ἀδελφός we are to understand, according to the usus loquendi of the Epistle, not the neighbour in general (Calovius), but the Christian brother ( αὑτοῦ), not exactly the “regenerate” (Düsterdieck); Ebrard erroneously: “first of all members of the Christian Church, yet without excluding those who are not Christians.”

ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον] The phrase ἁμαρτάνειν ἁμαρτίαν is stronger and more expressive than ποιεῖν ἁμαρτίαν.

The sort of ἁμαρτία is more particularly defined by the addition μὴ πρὸς θάνατον. The negative μή (instead of which οὐ is used in 1 John 5:17) is explained by the fact that the idea is regarded as dependent on ἐάν τις ἴδῃ (comp. Winer, p. 421). The apostle distinguishes between the ἁμαρτία οὐ πρὸς θάνατον and the ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον. What sin is to be understood by the latter? The idea חֵטְא לָמוּת, LXX.: ἁμαρτία θανατηφόρος, is found already in the O. T. Numbers 18:22, whence the Rabbis distinguish between חטאח למיתה and חטאה לא למיתה (Schoettgen, Hor. hebr.); in accordance with this, as Schoettgen also interprets, the ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον would be that sin to which the Mosaic law assigned the punishment of death, as idolatry, adultery, etc.; but even if that Old Testament definition is the basis of John’s expression, yet it does not follow that he used the idea in the same sense; θάνατος may here, as distinguished from ζωή ( καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ ζωήν), not mean bodily death. For this reason alone, therefore, the explanation of Morus and S. G. Lange is to be rejected, according to which that sort of sin is meant which is punished by the authorities with death or with other severe punishments (!), even apart from the fact that it makes the prayer of the Christian dependent on the penal decrees of civil law. But the opinion of Zachariae, Michaelis, and Linder (in the Zeitschrift für d. luth. Theol. of Rudelbach and Guericke, vol. IV. 1862), that here, as in James 5:14 ff., it is those who are in bodily sickness that are spoken of, and that such sin is meant as God punishes with deadly sickness or sudden death, is for the same reason unfounded.(319)

If θάνατος is not bodily death, then by πρὸς θάνατον the period to which the sin lasts cannot either be meant.

With reference to the ecclesiastical discipline exercised in the Church, the older Catholic theologians especially understood by the ἁμ. πρ. θάν., without further comment, all those sins which were punished by the punishment of excommunication. But even if the Church had always punished in that way the sin which John here has in view, yet that expression could not be explained by that practice.

As θάνατος is not bodily death, it is only spiritual death or damnation that can be meant by it; ἁμ. πρὸς θάνατον is therefore the sin which leads to damnation. But what sin is this? It is much too general to regard every grievous transgression as such. As Christ Himself refuses forgiveness absolutely only to one sin, the commentators who assent to the above view find themselves driven to an arbitrary weakening of πρὸς θάνατον; so Ambrosius (lib. de poenit.), when he says: quodvis peccatum gravissimum, quod vix remittitur; and still more strangely a Lapide: peccatum quodvis gravissimum, quod … juxta legem communem per gratiam, quam Deus ordinarie dare solet, est quasi immedicabile, incorrigibile et insanabile. It is more correct, indeed, to regard it as sin which is not repented of, and to find the characteristic of the ἁμ. πρ. θάν. in the impenitence of the sinner who will give heed to no exhortation (Grotius, Socinus, etc.); but even this cannot be the feature which John here has specially in view, because at the time of the commitment of a sin it cannot be decided whether it will be repented of or not. John must mean a ἁμαρτία, which in itself is characterized as a ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον. Many commentators accordingly fix the meaning of it on a single particular sin; thus Tertullian, who understands by it, moechia post baptismum commissa; Bede, who, following the precedent of Augustine,(320) understands by it the peccatum invidentiae, quo quis invidet fratri gratiam, virtutem et salutem; but then we do not see why John did not specifically and definitely mention this particular sin. We might therefore agree with those who take ἁμαρτία here as the description of a state, as Bengel, who thus interprets: talis status, in quo fides et amor et spes, in summa, vita nova exstincta est; but this is opposed by the apostle’s mode of expression, which plainly refers to a sinful deed, and not to a state. Though, on the one hand, a single sin cannot be meant (Calvin: non est partialis lapsus, nec praecepti unius transgressio), yet we must only think of a whole species of sins, or better, of such sinning as is characterized not by the object with which it is connected, but by the disposition from which it proceeds. For the further definition it is to be observed, as Lücke with justice points out, that it can “only be a class of sins of Christians, and not of those who are not Christians,” that is spoken of, and that “the distinction between the sin unto death and sin that is not unto death must be capable of being known.” It is true, every sin can be called a ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον, inasmuch as it tends in the direction of θάνατος, but every sin does not infallibly lead to θάνατος; so long as along with the ἁμαρτία there still exists an ἔχειν τὸν υἱόν (1 John 5:11-12), the sinning Christian is still in fellowship with the αἷμα ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ which cleanses him ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας (chap. 1 John 1:7), and so long as he has a παράκλητος πρὸς τὸν πατέρα, namely, Jesus Christ the righteous (chap, 1 John 2:1), sin does not deprive him of the ζωὴ αἰώνιος, and is not therefore ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον; this it only is when it involves an actual falling away from Christ; de Wette and Lücke therefore rightly say that the sin unto death is the sin by which the Christian falls back again from the Christian’s ζωή into the θάνατος (comp. also Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 2, p. 340), only it is not exactly the falling away itself that is to be understood, for this is an internal act which, as such, is invisible,(321) but rather the sinful conduct by which the internal loss of life with Christ externally operates and reveals itself (so also Braune).(322) It is incorrect of Düsterdieck (and similarly Ebrard) to understand by the sin unto death the antichristian denial that Jesus is the Christ; for if John had meant this, he would have expressed it definitely, so much the more as in the Epistle he is carrying on a polemic against that antichristianity. Just as little has Myrberg arrived at the correct explanation when on ἔστιν ἁ΄αρτία πρὸς θάνατον he remarks: varia genera peccatorum, quae mortem in sensu loci nostri adferant, vide enumerata, Galatians 5:18-21; for although Paul says: ὅτι τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονο΄ήσουσιν, yet it does not follow from this that no return is possible from such sins.

In the face of the apostle’s words the possibility of knowing the ἁ΄αρτάνειν προς θάν. cannot be denied, yet it is difficult to distinguish amongst the particular concrete manifestations; but, on the one hand, the Christian mind which is fitted for the κρίσις will not decide without scrupulous examination; and, on the other hand, John himself shows by the ΄ή that the decision can at any time be only a subjective one. The meaning of the sentence accordingly is: If any man see his brother sin in such a way that the sin which he commits does not involve absolute renunciation of Christ, and therefore does not necessarily bring condemnation with it, he shall pray for him.(323)

αἰτήσει is not to be understood of the united prayer of the Church as such (so Neander; Ewald also says: “Christian prayer, especially in the consecrated bosom of the Church”), but of every prayer of one for another. The future is not exactly used instead of the imperative; it rather expresses the certainty that, in the case stated, the Christian will pray, but in this there is certainly involved the injunction actually to do it. The substance of the prayer is indicated by the following.

καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ ζωήν] denotes the result of the prayer; very many, perhaps most commentators (Socinus, a Lapide, Lorinus, Grotius, Spener, Lücke, Sander, Erdmann, etc.), supply with δώσει as subject θεός or αἰτούμενος (so also Winer, p. 463; VII. p. 487; Al. Buttm. p. 116, Anm.); a similar change of subject occurs in Acts 8:6; but considering the close connection of αἰτήσει and δώσει, along with which the similarity of the verbal form is also to be noticed, it is preferable, with Jerome, Sander, de Wette-Brückner,(324) Baumgarten-Crusius, Frommann (p. 674), Düsterdieck, Myrberg, Braune, etc., to assume the same subject with δώσει as with αἰτήσει; then the sense is: he that prays gives the ζωή, inasmuch as God grants him his prayer. The idea finds its explanation in the fact that every sin brings with it a weakening of the ζωή; in order that he that sins may not remain in tins want, he requires a new infusion of life, and this is procured for him by the prayer of his believing brother. In addition to this, of course, the confession of his sin, with trust in the cleansing power of the blood of Christ (comp. chap. 1 John 1:7), is necessary on his part; but it is just in this that the blessing of the prayer consists, that he receives as the result of it the needful inclination for this.(325)

τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι μὴ πρὸς θάνατον] apposition to αὐτῷ; the plural serves only for generalization (de Wette, Winer, etc.); Bornemann (Bibl. Studien der süchs. Geistlichen, I. p. 71; and Alex. Buttm. p. 156) erroneously explains τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι as the dative commodi, referring αὐτῷ to the person that prays himself. By the following words: ἔστιν ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον, the apostle brings out that there is really a sin unto death, with which he connects the observation: οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήσῃ. Most commentators find in this a prohibition, even though mildly expressed, of prayer in reference to the sin unto death; but this is not contained here, as Grotius, Hornejus, Besser, Myrberg, Ebrard, Brückner, etc., rightly observe; for the negative οὐ does not belong to ἐρωτήσῃ, but to λέγω; if the negative was to be referred to the former, it would have had to be μή. The sense is: My injunction does not mean ( οὐ λέγω) that a man is to offer prayer ( ἵνα ἐρωτήσῃ) in reference to ( περί) the sin πρὸς θάνατον.(326)

The words do not express more than this, although it is admitted that in the emphasizing of οὐ λέγω a warning is indicated (similarly Braune); John does not want to make a duty of a prayer, to which the certain assurance of being granted is wanting; he therefore adds this limitation to his exhortation to prayer (so also Besser): a formal prohibition would only he appropriate if the ἁμαρτάνειν πρ. θάν. was always cognizable as such. It is observable that John does not say here αἰτήσῃ, but ἐρωτήσῃ; ἐρωτᾷν (lit. “to ask”) is a milder idea than αἰτεῖν (lit. “to demand”); the apostle warns against the ἐρωτᾷν, and, of course, much more against the more urgent αἰτεῖν.(327)


Verse 17

1 John 5:17. To guard against indifference to transgressions occurring in the Christian’s life, the apostle continues: πᾶσα ἀδικία ἁμαρτία ἐστί.

ἀδικία is not synonymous with ἀνομία, chap. 1 John 3:4; for whilst ἀνομία there serves to strengthen the idea ἁμαρτία, the idea ἀδικία is here more particularly defined and strengthened by ἁμαρτία; ἀδικία, namely, is the character of every offence against that which is right, “every breach of duty” (Meyer). Though, on the one hand, every such transgression is sin; yet, on the other hand, it must be maintained that every sin does not lead to death; hence καὶ ἔστιν ἁμαρτία οὐ πρὸς θάνατον: καί is not adversative, but serves to emphasize the thought.

οὐ πρὸς θάνατον does not belong to ἐστιν (Luther: “some sin is not to death”), but to ἁμαρτία: “there is sin not unto death.


Verse 18

, it is true, is closely connected with the foregoing, but at the same time forms the commencement of the conclusion of the Epistle, which is indicated as such by the successive thrice-repeated οἴδαμεν (Ebrard), and in which the apostle describes the position of believers in brief vigorous strokes

1 John 5:18, it is true, is closely connected with the foregoing, but at the same time forms the commencement of the conclusion of the Epistle, which is indicated as such by the successive thrice-repeated οἴδαμεν (Ebrard), and in which the apostle describes the position of believers in brief vigorous strokes.

As in 1 John 5:16-17 it was admitted that even in Christians ἀδικία, and hence ἁμαρτία, still exist, the apostle finds himself compelled to repeat, confirmingly, what was said in chap. 1 John 3:6-10, as a truth known to Christians ( οἴδαμεν, in which there does not lie “an appeal to the fact that he has already said it,” Ebrard), in order that it may be thoroughly impressed on them that all sin is in the sharpest antagonism to their essential principle of life.

οἴδαμεν, ὅτι πᾶς γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει] This appears to be in contradiction with what is previously admitted; John does not solve the contradiction; many commentators seek to do so by supplying πρὸς θάνατον as a more particular definition of οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει, or by interpreting it of remaining in sin; both are, however, arbitrary; the solution lies rather in the fact that the apostle wants simply to emphasize the antagonism between being born of God and sinning. Though sin is still found in the life of the believer, who as such is γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, yet it is nevertheless foreign to him, opposed to his nature, and in the strength of his faith he is ever becoming more and more free from it.(328)

ἀλλ ̓ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν] This second clause is not dependent on ὅτι, but is to be regarded as an independent sentence (Düsterdieck, Braune). Bengel erroneously states the difference between the form γεννηθείς and the preceding γεγεννη΄ένος thus: Praeteritum grandius quiddam sonat, quam aoristus: non modo qui magnum in regeneratione gradum assecutus, sed quilibet, qui regenitus est, servat se; it is rather the same distinction that occurs here as that by which these two verbal forms are generally distinguished; γεννηθείς is: “he who was born,” regarded as a historical fact.

In 1 Timothy 5:22, ἅγνον, and in James 1:27, ἄσπιλον, are put with τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν as more particular definition. It is, however, unnecessary to supply such a predicate (de Wette); τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν denotes the self-preservation of the believer in his proper character (so also Braune);(329) the more particular definition results from the following; καὶ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ] is the result of the τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν; Ebrard incorrectly: “Satan dare not touch him; God does not permit it;” the present simply expresses the fact, but this, according to the context, is the case, because the devil is prevented from ἅπτεσθαι by the τηρεῖν ἑαυτόν of him who is born of God. With πονηρός, comp. chap. 1:13. By ἅπτεσθαι we are to understand touching in order to do harm; Psalms 105:15, LXX. (see Raphelii Annot. ex Polybio). Compare James 4:7 : φεύξεται ἀφ ̓ ὑμῶν. It is true the believer is still tempted by the devil (comp. 1 Peter 5:8, etc.), just as sinful desires still arise in him; but being in his most inner nature redeemed from the fellowship of sin, he suffers from these temptations no injury to the life that has come to him from God: in the πανοπλία τοῦ θεοῦ he is protected against all the ΄εθοδεῖαι τοῦ διαβόλου (Ephesians 6:11 ff.).(330)


Verse 19

marks the antithesis between believers as being born of God, and the κόσμος, as belonging in its whole extent ( ὅλος) to the πονηρός; and this is done by the apostle vindicating for himself and his readers—who are united with him in faith—the εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ

1 John 5:19 marks the antithesis between believers as being born of God, and the κόσμος, as belonging in its whole extent ( ὅλος) to the πονηρός; and this is done by the apostle vindicating for himself and his readers—who are united with him in faith—the εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ.

ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν finds its explanation in the preceding: γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ. Socinus incorrectly: a Deo pendemus.

καὶ κόσμος ὅλος κ. τ. λ.] probably as an independent sentence, not depending on ὅτι (Düsterdieck); καί is not = δέ; it is just the connecting καί that brings out the antithesis which exists between the two parts of the verse, still more clearly than if this had been done by an adversative particle. κόσμος is here used in the ethical meaning of the word, which is peculiar to John.

ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται] τῷ πονηρῷ is not neuter (Socinus, Episcopius, Rickli, Erdmann), but masculine, as is clear both from πονηρός in 1 John 5:18, as also from the antithesis to θεός.

By the preceding ἐκ τ. θεοῦ and Luther’s translation of Isaiah 46:3, some commentators have been led erroneously to refer the expression ἐνκεῖται to the relation of the child to its mother (Spener: “as a child in its mother’s womb”); by ἐν it is expressed that the κόσμος is as it were surrounded by the devil, i.e. is quite in his power; κεῖται, stronger than ἐστί, indicates, if not, as Lücke thinks, the permanent, yet certainly the passive state (so also Braune), and hence the complete domination of the devil, which is in the most pronounced contrast with the preceding: καὶ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ.


Verse 20

1 John 5:20. In conclusion, the apostle indicates whence the εἶναι ἐκ τῷ θεῷ (the result of the εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ) has come to him and his readers; and he does this by expressing it through οἴδαμεν as the substance of their Christian consciousness.

οἴδαμεν δέ, ὅτι υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἥκει] The conditioning cause of the former is the coming of the Son of God.

The particle δέ is here used to indicate the antithesis to the immediately preceding thought; Brückner has with justice decided in favour of this reading (contrary to καὶ οἴδαμεν; see the critical notes).

ἥκει is not = adest (Bengel), but: “has come;” the reference is to the incarnation of the Son of God.

καὶ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν, ἵνα γινώσκομεν τὸν ἀληθινόν] Still dependent on ὅτι.

The subject of δέδωκεν is not: θεός (Bengel), but: υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, as the close connection of this clause with that immediately preceding clearly shows; τὸν ἀληθινόν, on the other hand, is not a description of the Son (Bengel), but of God.

By διάνοια we are not to understand, with Lücke and de Wette, “knowledge,” or even “insight,” but the capability of knowledge (Düsterdieck, Ebrard), yet in its living activity, hence “the faculty of knowing.(331)

By ἵνα γινώσκομεν κ. τ. λ. it is neither the purpose: “in order that,” nor even the result: “so that,” that is stated, but the object to which the διάνοια is directed, and which it attains. We can only regard ἵνα as the particle of purpose, if we unjustifiably understand by διάνοια “the spiritual disposition” (contrary to Braune).

The idea γινώσκειν is here used with the same force as in chap. 1 John 2:4-5, where it is similarly connected with ἐν αὐτῷ εἶναι. By τὸν ἀληθινόν God is described, in distinction from all idols, especially from the idol which the false teachers made of God, as the true God; Calvin: Verum Deum intelligit, non veraccm, sed cum qui re vera Deus est, ut cum ab idolis omnibus discernat; comp. John 17:3(332) (similarly Lücke, de Wette, Neander, Erdmann, Düsterdieck, Myrberg, Ebrard, Braune, etc.). He is the true God, who has sent His Son into the world; the coming of Christ has not been ineffectual, but has produced in believers the knowledge of God—a knowledge which is one with being in God. Therefore the apostle continues: καὶ ἐσ΄ὲν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ. These words are not dependent on ὅτι (Vulg.: et simus), but form an independent sentence. The ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ refers back to τὸν ἀληθινόν; considering the close connection of the two sentences, it must be the same subject, namely God, that is meant by the same word (Brückner, Braune); it is arbitrary to understand by τὸν ἀληθινόν God, and by τῷ ἀληθινῷ, on the other hand, Christ, and it is, moreover, forbidden by the context, in accordance with which the καὶ ἐσ΄ὲν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ states the consequence of the preceding, namely of the fact that the Son of God has come and has given to us the capability of knowing the true God.(333) Therefore also the following words: ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦ χριστῷ, are not to be taken as apposition to ἐν τῷ ἀλ. (Weiss), against which even the αὐτοῦ testifies, for then it would have to be referred, not to τῷ ἀληθινῷ, but beyond it to τὸν ἀληθινόν. The additional clause shows in what the εἶναι ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ has its ground and stability (Brückner, Braune); ἐν is not = per, but indicates, as generally in the formula ἐν ἰησ. χριστῷ, the relationship of intimate fellowship: the believer is in God, inasmuch as he is in Christ.

Before the last warning, connected with this (1 John 5:21), the apostle expressively concludes with the statement: οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθινὸς θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. As is well known, views have differed from old times about the meaning of οὗτος. While the Arians understand οὗτος of God, the orthodox refer it to the immediately preceding ἐν τῷ υἱῷ . χρ., and use this passage as a proof of the divinity of the Son. This interpretation remained the prevailing one in the Church, even after Erasmus had remarked: “hic est verus Deus” referri potest ad Deum verum Patrem qui praecessit; and against this the Socinians, and then Grotius, Wetstein, the English Antitrinitarians, and the German Rationalists followed the opposite view. It is not to be denied that on both sides the different dogmatic interests did not remain without influence on the interpretation, until in more recent times a more unbiassed consideration has led the way. Among the latest commentators, Rickli, Lücke, de Wette, Neander, Gerlach, Frommann, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Myrberg, even Brückner and Braune (who, however, leave room for doubt), similarly Hofmann (Schriftbew. 2d ed. I. p. 146), Winer (p. 142; VII. p. 148), and Al. Buttmann (p. 91), have decided in favour of the reference to God; Sander, Besser, Ebrard, Weiss, etc., for the reference to the Son. The dispute cannot be settled on grammatical lines, for οὗτος can be referred both to τὸν ἀληθινόν(334) and also to τῷ υἱῷ; the addition: καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, seems to support the latter reference, for Christ, in the Gospel of John, calls Himself precisely ζωή, and also in the beginning of this Epistle it is the Son of God that is to be understood by ζωή and ζωὴ αἰώνιος. The former reference, on the other hand, is supported by the expression: ἀληθινὸς θεός; for, in the first place, it is more natural to understand here the same subject as is previously designated by ἀληθινὸς, than any other; and, in the second place, the Father and the Son, God and Jesus Christ, are always so definitely distinguished throughout the whole Epistle that it would be strange if, at the close of it, and, moreover, just after both subjects have been similarly distinguished immediately before, Christ—without further explanation, too—should be described as ἀληθινὸς θεός, especially as this designation is never ascribed to the Son in the writings of John, definitely though the divinity of the Son is taught in them.(335) To this it may be added that, after John has brought out as the peculiar characteristic of the Christian’s life, of which he partakes in the Son of God, the εἶναι ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, the clause in question has its right meaning only if it states who that ἀληθινός is, namely that he is the ἀληθινὸς θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. Now, though elsewhere it is only Christ that is called exactly ζωή, yet He has the ζωή—according to His own words, John 5:26—only from the Father, who originally has the life in Himself ( πατὴρ ἔχει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ), and may therefore be called ζωὴ αἰώνιος no less than the Son. Besides, it is to be observed that ζωὴ αἰών. is here used without the article, so that the expression comes under the same category as the expressions: θεός ἐστι φῶς (1 John 1:5), ἀγάπη (1 John 4:16), πνεῦ΄α (Gospel of John 4:24).

The objection that “it would be a feeble repetition, after the Father had twice been called ἀληθινός, again to say: this is the ἀληθινὸς θεός” (Ebrard, similarly Weiss; also Schulze, Menschensohn, etc. p. 263(336)), is the less valid, as the apostle has already in view the warning of 1 John 5:21, and by ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ . χρ. it is indicated that He alone is the true God, with whom we are in fellowship in Christ: it is only the Father of Jesus Christ that is the true God.

The connection of the words: καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, as a second predicate, with οὔτος, has appeared a difficulty to many commentators. Socinus wanted to take οὔτος = τοῦτο, with reference to the whole preceding thought, and then he paraphrases τοῦτο by ἐν τούτῳ and interprets: in eo, quod diximus, est ille verus Deus et vita aeterna; nam quatenus quis habet et cognoscit Christi Patrem et ipsum Christum, habet et illum verum Deum et aeternam vitam; similarly Ewald, when he paraphrases: “this, both these things together, that we know and that we are all this, this is the true God and eternal life.” The arbitrariness of this explanation is self-evident. Others, as Clarke, Benson, Lücke (in his 1st ed.), supply before ζωὴ αἰών. an αὓτη ἐστίν out of οὔτός ἐστιν, referring αὓτη either to υἱός or to the idea εἶναι ἐν τῷ ἀληθ. Lücke has rightly withdrawn this explanation in his 2d edition as unwarrantable, and correctly says: “ καὶ ζωὴ αἰών. can certainly not be grammatically connected directly with οὔτος;” Lücke, however, thinks that there is an ellipsis in the expression, and that it is to be interpreted: “this … the true God is eternal life, which can either be understood of the fact that God is the cause and source of eternal life, or thus: His fellowship is eternal life.” But why could not John have described by ζωὴ αἰών. the substantial character of the divine nature? If God has ζωή in Himself (John 5:26), namely the ζωή which He has given to the Son, and which believers possess through the Son (John 5:24), then God in His very nature is ζωή, and ζωὴ αἰώνιος too. As John mentions this as the characteristic of God’s nature, there certainly lies in this the indication that God is the source of life for us.


Verse 21

1 John 5:21. If believers have come to the true God through Christ, they have to take care that they do not lose this eternal and highest good by giving themselves up to any vain idol. In this train of thought John closes his Epistle with the short exhortation, so impressive, however, in its brevity: τεκνία φυλάξετε ἑαυτοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων. In the address τεκνία we may see the depth of the feeling with which John utters these concluding words.

εἴδωλα are properly images; this signification is retained here by many commentators (Tertullian, Oecumenius, Lyranus, Lorinus, Salmeron, Lücke, Baumgarten-Crusius, Erdmann, Düsterdieck, etc.), whilst some of them, however, extend the idea to that of “false, heathen gods;” others, again, refer the expression to the arbitrary self-made representations of God which the false teachers had—thus Bede, Rickli, Sander, Thiersch (Versuch zur Herstellung, p. 241), etc.

Others combine both views, and understand by εἴδωλα here all sorts of images which men arbitrarily make for themselves of God (Ebrard, Braune). If the warning is not to be regarded as a detached appendix, foreign to the contents of the Epistle, we cannot rest satisfied with the first interpretation. As the apostle, just in the antithesis to the false teachers, who belong to the κόσμος, has so decidedly referred to the ἀληθινὸς θεός, he certainly has in view in this warning, if not altogether, yet principally, the untrue mental images of those teachers.(337) It is only if so taken that the warning to keep themselves from idols forms the appropriate conclusion of the whole Epistle.

 


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Bibliography Information
Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/1-john-5.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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