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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 1

Whosoever believeth ( πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων )

Lit., every one that believeth. For the characteristic form of expression see on 1 John 3:3.

The Christ

See on Matthew 1:1, and see on 1 John 1:7.


Verse 2

By this ( ἐν τούτῳ )

Not by this or from this, as an inference (see on 1 John 4:6), but in the very exercise of the sentiment toward God, we perceive.

When ( ὅταν )

More strictly, whenever. Our perception of the existence of love to our brethren is developed on every occasion when we exercise love and obedience toward God.

Keep ( τηρῶμεν )

Read ποιῶμεν doSo Rev. See on John 3:21; see on 1 John 3:4. The exact phrase ποιεῖν τὰς ἐντολὰς todo the commandments, occurs only here. See on Revelation 22:14.


Verse 3

Grievous ( βαρεῖαι )

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


Verse 4

Overcometh ( νικᾷ )

See on 1 John 2:13.

The victory ( ἡ νίκη )

Only here in the New Testament.

That overcometh ( ἡ νικήσασα )

The aorist tense, overcame. On the cumulative form of expression, the victory, that which overcame, see on 1 John 4:9. The aorist is to be held here to its strict sense. The victory over the world was, potentially, won when we believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. We overcome the world by being brought into union with Christ. On becoming as He is (1 John 3:17) we become partakers of His victory (John 16:33). “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Our faith ( πίστις ἡμῶν )

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


Verse 5

He that overcometh ( ὁ νικῶν )

The article with the participle denoting what is habitual; one who leads a life of victory over the world.


Verse 6

This

Jesus.

He that came ( ὁ ἐλθὼν )

Referring to the historic fact. See Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:19; John 1:15, John 1:27. Compare, for the form of expression, John 1:33; John 3:13.

By water and blood ( δἰ ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος )

Διά bymust be taken with ὁ ἐλθὼν Hethat came. It has not mere]y the sense of accompaniment, but also of instrumentality, i.e., by, through, by means of. Water and blood are thus the media through which Jesus the Mediator wrought, and which especially characterized the coming. See especially Hebrews 9:12: “Christ being come … neither by the blood ( δἰ αἵματος ) of goats and calves, but by His own blood ( διὰ δε τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος ”). Compare “we walk by faith not by sight ( διὰ πίστεως οὐ διὰ εἴδους, 2 Corinthians 5:7): we wait with (lit., through ) patience ( δἰ ὑπομονῆς, Romans 8:25).

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

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

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

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

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

Not by water only ( οὐκ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι μόνον )

Lit., not in the water only Rev., with. The preposition ἐν inmarks the sphere or element in which; διά bythe medium through which. For the interchange of ἐν and διά see 2 Corinthians 6:7. The words are probably directed against the teaching of Cerinthus. See on 1 John 2:22. John asserts that Jesus is the Christ, and that He came by blood as well as by water.

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness ( καὶ τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ μαρτυροῦν )

Lit., and the Spirit is that which is bearing witness. Note the present tense, beareth witness, and compare 1 John 5:9, hath born witness. The witness is present and continuous in the Church, in the sacraments for instance, in water and in blood. Witnessing is the peculiar office of the Spirit. See John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:8sqq. See on John 1:7.

Because ( ὅτι )

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

The truth ( ἡ ἀλήθεια )

Just as Christ is the truth (John 14:6).


Verse 7

There are three that bear record ( τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ).

Lit., three are the witnessing ones.

The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.

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


Verse 8

Agree in one ( εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν )

Lit., are for the one. They converge upon the one truth, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh.


Verse 9

If we receive ( εἰ λαμβάνομεν )

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

The witness of God is greater

Supply mentally, and therefore we should receive that.

For ( ὅτι )

Not explaining why it is greater, but why the principle of the superior greatness of divine testimony should apply and be appealed to in this case. Supply mentally, and this applies in the case before us, for, etc.

This is the witness of God which ( ἣν )

The best texts read ὅτι thator because. Render that. This is the witness of God, even the fact that, etc.


Verse 10

On the Son of God

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

God

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

Hath made - hath believed ( πρποίηκεν - πεπίστευκεν )

The perfect tense marks the two results expressed by the verbs as connected with a past act. The act perpetuates itself in the present condition of the unbeliever.

Believed on the witness ( πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὴν μαρτυρίαν )

The phrase occurs only here. See on John 1:12. In one other case to believe on is used with an object not directly personal, πιστεύετε εἰς τὸ φῶς ; but the reference is clearly to the personal Christ as the Light of the World (John 8:12).


Verse 11

Hath given ( ἔδωκεν )

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

Eternal life ( ζωὴν αἰώνιον )

Compare the phrase τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον thelife, the eternal life (1 John 1:2), and ἡ αἰώνιος ζωὴ theeternal life (John 17:3). For the distinction between the phrases see on 1 John 1:2. The phrase here, without either article, merely defines the character of the life.


Verse 12

Hath life ( ἔχει τὴν ζωὴν )

More strictly, as Rev., the life; i.e., the life which God gave (1 John 5:11). See on John 16:22. Compare Christ who is our life (Colossians 3:4).

The Son of God

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

Hath not life

Note the inversion “He that hath the Son hath the life. He that hath not the Son of God, the life hath he not.”


Verse 13

Have I written ( ἔγραψα )

Lit., I wrote. John speaks as looking back over his Epistle and recalling the aim with which he wrote. See on 1 John 2:13.

May know ( εἰδῆτε )

Not perceive ( γινώσκειν ), but know with settled and absolute knowledge. See on John 2:24.

Ye have eternal life ( ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον )

The Greek order is peculiar, “ye may know that life ye have eternal.” The adjective eternal is added as an after-thought. So Westcott: “that ye have life - yes, eternal life.”

Unto you that believe

In the A.V., these words follow have I written. The Rev. follows the Greek order. The words, like eternal, above, are added as an after-thought, defining the character of the persons addressed.

On the name ( εἰς τὸ ὄνομα )

See on John 2:23; see on John 1:12.


Verse 14

Confidence ( παῤῥησία )

Rev., boldness. See on 1 John 2:28; see on John 7:13. On have boldness, see on John 16:22.

We ask ( αἰτώμεθα )

With a possible reference in the middle voice to asking for ourselves.

According to His will ( κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ )

For the phrase compare 1 Peter 4:19; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11.

He heareth us ( ἀκούει ἡμῶν )

Compare John 9:31; John 11:41, John 11:42. Hear is used in this sense by John only.


Verse 15

Whatsoever we ask

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


Verse 16

If any man see ( ἐάν τις ἴδῃ )

A supposed case.

His brother

Christian brother.

Sin a sin ( ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν )

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

Not unto death ( μὴ πρὸς θάνατον )

Describing the nature of the sin. The preposition unto, signifies tendency toward, not necessarily involving death. See on 1 John 5:17.

He shall ask ( αἰτήσει )

In prayer. The future tense expresses not merely permission (it shall be permitted him to ask), but the certainty that, as a Christian brother, he will ask. An injunction to that effect is implied.

He shall give

He may refer either to God or to the petitioner, as being the means of bestowing life through his intercession, as in James 5:20. The former explanation is the more natural. So Rev.

Him ( αὐτῷ )

The brother for whom intercession is made.

For them that sin ( τοῖς ἁμαρτὰνουσιν )

In apposition with αὐτῷ tohim. God shall give life unto him (the erring brother), even unto them that sin. The plural generalizes the particular case described by ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν sinninga sin.

There is a sin ( ἔστιν ἁμαρτία )

Rev., margin, better, sin. A sin would express a specific act as such. Sin describes the character of a class of acts.

Unto death

The difficulty of the passage lies in the explanation of these words. It is impossible to determine their exact meaning with certainty. Some of the many explanations are as follows: Such sin as God punishes with deadly sickness or sudden death. All those sins punished with excommunication (so the older Catholic theologians). An unrepented sin. Envy. A sinful state or condition. The sin by which the Christian falls back from Christian life into death. The anti-Christian denial that Jesus is the Christ.

The phrase λαβεῖν ἁμαρτίαν θανητοφόρον toincur a death-bearing sin (A. V., bear sin and die ), occurs Numbers 18:22, Sept., and the distinction between sins unto death and sins not unto death is common in Rabbinic writings. However John's expression may have been suggested by these, it cannot be assumed that they determine the sense in which he uses it.

Life and death in the passage must correspond. Bodily death and spiritual life cannot be meant. The passage must be interpreted in the light of John's utterances elsewhere concerning life and death. In 1 John 5:12, he says: He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. In 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:15, he says that he that loveth not abideth in death: that he that hateth his brother is a manslayer, and that no manslayer hath eternal life abiding in him. These canons of interpretation point to the explanation, in which some of the best authorities agree, that the sin unto death does not refer to a specific act, but to a class or species of sins, the tendency of which is to cut the bond of fellowship with Christ. Hence the passage is in the key-note of fellowship which pervades the Epistle. Whatever breaks the fellowship between the soul and Christ, and, by consequence, between the individual and the body of believers, is unto death, for there is no life apart from Christ. It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made, as Canon Westcott observes, between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God. “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death.” It must be carefully born in mind in the study of the passage, that John is speaking of sinful acts as revelations of character, and not simply in themselves. So Huther: “Such sinning as is characterized, not by the object with which it is connected, but by the disposition from which it proceeds.”

I do not say that he shall pray for it ( οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήση )

Lit., not concerning this do I say that he should make request. So Rev. Prayer even for this sin unto death is not forbidden, but John says that he does not enjoin it. Note the sharp distinctness with which that terrible sin is thrown out by the pronoun of remote reference and its emphatic position in the sentence. Note also the words make request ( ἐρωτήσῃ ), and compare αἰτήσει heshall ask. On the distinction, see on Luke 11:9. Αἰτέω toask, is used of the petition of an inferior, and is never used of Christ's own requests to God. Hence it is properly used here of the humble and affectionate petition of a Christian to God on behalf of a sinning brother. Ἑρωτάω is used of the request of an equal, or of one who asks on equal terms. Hence it may mark a request based upon fellowship with God through Christ, or it may hint at an element of presumption in a prayer for a sin unto death. Westcott cites a very early inscription in the Roman Catacombs as an illustration of the use of ἐρωτᾷν in the sense of Christian prayer for Christians: ἐρωτᾶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν prayfor us.


Verse 17

Unrighteousness ( ἀδικία )

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


Verse 18

We know ( οἴδαμεν )

John uses this appeal to knowledge in two forms: we know (1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, 1 John 5:20); ye know (1 John 2:20; 1 John 3:5, 1 John 3:15).

He that is begotten of God ( ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ )

Lit., was begotten. This exact phrase does not occur elsewhere. Some refer it to the man who is born of God, making it parallel with ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ , he that is begotten of God. Others to Christ, the only-begotten of God. The later is preferable.

That wicked one ( ὁ πονηρὸς )

See on 1 John 2:13. Rev., the evil one.

Toucheth ( ἅπτεται )

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


Verse 19

We are of God ( ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐσμέν )

For the phrase εἷναι ἐκ tobe from, see on John 1:46. For ἐσμέν weare, see on 1 John 3:1. John expresses the relation of believers to God by the following phrases: To be born or begotten of God, γεννηθῆναι ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ (1 John 5:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:7): denoting the initial communication of the new life. To be of God, εἷναι ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ (John 8:47; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 4:6): denoting the essential connection in virtue of the new life. Child of God, τέκνον Θεοῦ (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:10): denoting the relation established by the new life.

World ( κόσμος )

See on John 1:9.

Lieth ( κεῖται )

The word is stronger than ἐστι isindicating the passive, unprogressive state in the sphere of Satan's influence. “While we are from God, implying a birth and a proceeding forth, and a change of state, the κόσμος theworld, all the rest of mankind, remains in the hand of the evil one” (Alford).

In wickedness ( ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ )

Rev., better, in the evil one. The expression to lie in has a parallel in Sophocles' “Antigone:”

ἐν ὑμῖν γὰρ ὡς Θεῷ

κείμεθα τλάμονες

“Wretched we lie in you as in a god” (247).


Verse 20

An understanding ( διάνοιαν )

Only here in John's writings. The faculty of understanding. See on Luke 1:51. Westcott remarks that nouns which express intellectual powers are rare in the writings of John.

We may know ( γινώσκομεν )

Apprehend progressively. Compare John 17:3.

Him that is true ( τὸν ἀληθινόν )

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

This

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

Eternal life

See on 1 John 1:2.


Verse 21

Keep yourselves ( φυλάξατε ἑαυτὰ )

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

Idols ( εἰδώλων )

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

 


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/1-john-5.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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