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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament
1 John 4



Other Authors
Verse 1

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

Believe not every spirit (μη παντι πνευματι πιστευετεmē panti pneumati pisteuete). “Stop believing,” as some were clearly carried away by the spirits of error rampant among them, both Docetic and Cerinthian Gnostics. Credulity means gullibility and some believers fall easy victims to the latest fads in spiritualistic humbuggery.

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

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

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

Verse 2

Hereby know ye (εν τουτωι γινωσκετεen toutōi ginōskete). Either present active indicative or imperative. The test of “the Spirit of God” (το πνευμα του τεουto pneuma tou theou) here alone in this Epistle, save 1 John 4:13. With the clamour of voices then and now this is important. The test (εν τουτωιen toutōi as in 1 John 3:19) follows.

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

Verse 3

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

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

Whereof (οho). Accusative of person (grammatical neuter referring to πνευμαpneuma) with ακουωakouō along with accusative of the thing (οτι ερχεταιhoti erchetai as in 1 John 2:18, futuristic present middle indicative). Here the perfect active indicative (ακηκοατεakēkoate), while in 1 John 2:18 the aorist (ηκουσατεēkousate).

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

Verse 4

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

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

Verse 5

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

As of the world (εκ του κοσμουek tou kosmou). No “as” (ωςhōs), but that is the idea, for their talk proceeds from the world and wins a ready hearing. The false prophets and the world are in perfect unison.

Verse 6

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

By this (εκ τουτουek toutou). “From this,” deduction drawn from the preceding; only example in the Epistle for the common εν τουτωιen toutōi as in 1 John 4:2. The power of recognition (γινωσκομενginōskomen we know by personal experience) belongs to all believers (Westcott). There is no reason for Christians being duped by “the spirit of error” (το πνευμα της πλανηςto pneuma tēs planēs), here alone in the N.T., though we have πνευμασιν πλανοιςpneumasin planois (misleading spirits) in 1 Timothy 4:1. Rejection of the truth may be due also to our not speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Verse 7

Of God (εκ του τεουek tou theou). Even human love comes from God, “a reflection of something in the Divine nature itself” (Brooke). John repeats the old commandment of 1 John 2:7. Persistence in loving (present tense αγαπωμενagapōmen indicative and αγαπωνagapōn participle) is proof that one “has been begotten of God” (εκ του τεου γεγεννηταιek tou theou gegennētai as in 1 John 2:29) and is acquainted with God. Otherwise mere claim to loving God accompanied by hating one‘s brother is a lie (1 John 2:9-11).

Verse 8

He that loveth not (ο μη αγαπωνho mē agapōn). Present active articular participle of αγαπαωagapaō “keeps on not loving.”

Knoweth not God (ουκ εγνω τον τεονouk egnō ton theon). Timeless aorist active indicative of γινωσκωginōskō has no acquaintance with God, never did get acquainted with him.

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

Verse 9

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

In us (εν ημινen hēmin). In our case, not “among us” nor “to us.” Cf. Galatians 1:16.

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

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

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

Verse 10

Not that (ουχ οτιouch hoti) - but that (αλλ οτιall' hoti). Sharp contrast as in John 7:22; 2 Corinthians 7:9; Philemon 4:17.

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

He (αυτοςautos). Emphatic nominative (God).

To be the propitiation (ιλασμονhilasmon). Merely predicate accusative in apposition with υιονhuion (Son). For the word see 1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25 for ιλαστηριονhilastērion and for περιperi see also 1 John 2:2.

Verse 11

If God so loved us (ει ουτως ο τεος ηγαπησεν ημαςei houtōs ho theos ēgapēsen hēmas). Condition of first class with ειei and the first aorist active indicative. As in John 3:16, so here ουτωςhoutōs emphasises the manifestation of God‘s love both in its manner and in its extent (Romans 8:32).

Ought (οπειλομενopheilomen). As in 1 John 2:6. Noblesse oblige. “Keep on loving,” (αγαπαινagapāin) as in 1 John 3:11.

Verse 12

No one hath beheld God at any time (τεον ουδεις πωποτε τετεαταιtheon oudeis pōpote tetheātai). Perfect middle indicative of τεαομαιtheaomai (John 1:14). Almost the very words of John 1:18 τεον ουδεις πωποτε εωρακενtheon oudeis pōpote heōraken (instead of τετεαταιtetheātai).

If we love one another (εαν αγαπωμεν αλληλουςean agapōmen allēlous). Third-class condition with εανean and the present active subjunctive, “if we keep on loving one another.”

God abideth in us (ο τεος εν ημιν μενειho theos en hēmin menei). Else we cannot go on loving one another.

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

Is perfected (τετελειωμενη εστινteteleiōmenē estin). Periphrastic (see usual form τετελειωταιteteleiōtai in 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:17) perfect passive indicative of τελειοωteleioō (cf. 1 John 1:4). See 1 John 4:18 for “perfect love.”

Verse 13

Hereby know we (εν τουτωι γινωσκομενen toutōi ginōskomen). The Christian‘s consciousness of the fact of God dwelling in him is due to the Spirit of God whom God has given (δεδωκενdedōken perfect active indicative here, though the aorist εδωκενedōken in 1 John 3:24). This gift of God is proof of our fellowship with God.

Verse 14

We have beheld (τετεαμεταtetheāmetha). Perfect middle of τεαομαιtheaomai as in 1 John 4:12, though the aorist in 1 John 1:1; John 1:14 (ετεασαμεταetheāsametha). John is qualified to bear witness (μαρτυρουμενmarturoumen as in 1 John 1:2) as Jesus had charged the disciples to do (Acts 1:8).

Hath sent (απεσταλκενapestalken). As in 1 John 4:9, though απεστειλενapesteilen in 1 John 4:10.

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

Verse 15

Whosoever shall confess (ος εαν ομολογησηιhos ean homologēsēi). Indefinite relative clause with modal εανean (= an) and the first aorist active subjunctive, “whoever confesses.” See 1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:2. for ομολογεωhomologeō (οτιhoti). Object clause (indirect assertion) after ομολογεωhomologeō This confession of the deity of Jesus Christ implies surrender and obedience also, not mere lip service (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:6-12). This confession is proof (if genuine) of the fellowship with God (1 John 1:3.; 1 John 3:24).

Verse 16

We know (εγνωκαμενegnōkamen). Perfect active indicative, “we have come to know and still know” as in John 6:9, only there order is changed (πεπιστευκαμενpepisteukamen coming before εγνωκαμενegnōkamen). Confession (ομολογεωhomologeō) follows experimental knowledge (γινωσκωginōskō) and confident trust (πιστευωpisteuō). Believers are the sphere (εν ημινen hēmin in our case) in which the love of God operates (Westcott). See John 13:35 for “having love.”

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

Verse 17

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

With us (μετ ημωνmeth' hēmōn). Construed with the verb τετελειωταιteteleiōtai (is perfected). In contrast to εν ημινen hēmin (1 John 4:12, 1 John 4:16), emphasising cooperation. “God works with man” (Westcott). For boldness (παρρησιανparrēsian) in the day of judgment (only here with both articles, but often with no articles as in 2 Peter 2:9) see 1 John 2:28.

As he is (κατως εκεινος εστινkathōs ekeinos estin). That is Christ as in 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:3, 1 John 3:5, 1 John 3:7, 1 John 3:16. Same tense (present) as in 1 John 3:7. “Love is a heavenly visitant” (David Smith). We are in this world to manifest Christ.

Verse 18

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

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

Casteth out fear (εχω βαλλει τον ποβονexō ballei ton phobon). “Drives fear out” so that it does not exist in real love. See εκβαλλω εχωekballō exō in John 6:37; John 9:34.; John 12:31; John 15:6 to turn out-of-doors, a powerful metaphor. Perfect love harbours no suspicion and no dread (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

Hath punishment (κολασιν εχειkolasin echei). Old word, in N.T. only here and Matthew 25:46. ΤιμωριαTimōria has only the idea of penalty, κολασιςkolasis has also that of discipline, while παιδειαpaideia has that of chastisement (Hebrews 12:7). The one who still dreads (ποβουμενοςphoboumenos) has not been made perfect in love (ου τετελειωταιou teteleiōtai). Bengel graphically describes different types of men: “sine timore et amore; cum timore sine amore; cum timore et amore; sine timore cum amore

Verse 19

He first (αυτος πρωτοςautos prōtos). Note πρωτοςprōtos (nominative), not πρωτονprōton as in John 20:4, John 20:8. God loved us before we loved him (John 3:16). Our love is in response to his love for us. ΑγαπωμενAgapōmen is indicative (we love), not subjunctive (let us love) of the same form. There is no object expressed here.

Verse 20

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

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

And hateth (και μισειkai misei). Continuation of the same condition with εανean and the present active subjunctive, “and keep on hating.” See 1 John 2:9; 1 John 3:15 for use of μισεωmiseō (hate) with αδελποςadelphos (brother). A liar (πσευστηςpseustēs). Blunt and to the point as in 1 John 1:10; 1 John 2:4.

That loveth not (ο μη αγαπωνho mē agapōn). “The one who does not keep on loving” (present active negative articular participle).

Hath seen (εωρακενheōraken). Perfect active indicative of οραωhoraō the form in John 1:18 used of seeing God.

Cannot love (ου δυναται αγαπαινou dunatai agapāin). “Is not able to go on loving,” with which compare 1 John 2:9, ου δυναται αμαρτανεινou dunatai hamartanein (is not able to go on sinning). The best MSS. do not have πωςpōs (how) here.

Verse 21

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

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


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 4:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

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