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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 1

1. Whosoever believeth—In order to a full communion with God in Christ, full hearty assent of intellect, heart, and will, must be conceded to Christ. This faith embraces him as Christ, that is, as anointed Son of God, with all his offices of propitiator and giver of eternal life. Whosoever so believeth is born of God. He is child of God, as Christ is only-begotten Son of God.

Loveth… begat… loveth… begotten—He that loves the Father loves the Father’s Son, and loves the Father’s sons. They are, indeed, his brothers by a celestial parentage. Our filial love ascends to our Father, God, and thence comes down upon all his sons. And all form one great communion of love.


Verse 2

2. Love the children of… love God—In 1 John 4:12, (where see note,) our love to the brethren proves our love to God; while here, reciprocally, our love to God proves love to the brethren. The former goes in the order from effect to cause, the latter goes from cause to effect.

Commandments—The keeping of commandments is the external form and expression of our love to God.


Verse 3

3. Love… commandments—A still more explicit identification of love with obedience.

Not grievousLove loves to obey. The loving heart runs eagerly out to service. Love makes duty delight. When the cross of duty is heavy it is a sign of feeble love. When his commandments are grievous, it is because our heart is disobedient and our faith is low. We are then liable to be conquered by the world, and to sin a sin unto death.


Verse 4

4. This overcoming the world is a key-note to John’s apocalypse.

Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:26. It implies that the hostile world seeks, both by temptations and by persecutions, to seduce or to destroy the sons of God. It is faith in Christ that causes, and even constitutes, the victory of the faithful over all the hostilities of the world. The for commencing this verse indicates that it gives a reason why his commandments (1 John 5:3) are not grievous, but joyous. Faith and victory render an exultant obedience to his commandments a delight. Faith in his leader, and assurance and enjoyment of victory render the Christian soldier joyously obedient to his captain’s orders.


Verse 5

5. Same truth in triumphant and personal form.

Who—Find the true world-conqueror, and tell us who and what he is.

Believeth—And the secret of his all-conquering strength, what is it? Faith. Faith in whom? In Jesus as the Son of God, with whom all the brethren are conquerors of the world and winners of eternal life.


Verse 6

2. And Christ, divinely attested by the threefold, witnesses, is supremely worthy of faith, 1 John 5:6-10.

6. This… Jesus, named in previous verse.

He that came—For this Jesus is truly the great he… that came. He was God’s predicted COMER and his coming was the Advent. And he came, attested by two tokens divinely appointed, namely, water and blood. There have been many fanciful interpretations of the water and blood; but the best commentators now agree that the water was the water of Christ’s baptism, and the blood the propitiating blood of his crucifixion. And thus, as Huther well notes, the commencement and the ending of our Lord’s ministry are symbolized by these two elements. The came, therefore, refers not to his birth, but to his office and earthly life, which are thus one extended coming. Yet John uses the past tense came to denote that definite historical fact, and not any continuous spiritual coming through ages. The preposition by should rather be through, and the meaning is, that he came into manifestation and proof as Son of God and Messiah through these two attesting tokens.

Not by water only… blood—John the Baptist came by water only; not also by blood. His water would have been of no avail but for the Propitiator’s blood. It was the blood which, with its divine self-sacrifice by the Sufferer, and its power of propitiation, gave all the value to the water. The Greek prepositions here before water and blood are neither by nor through, but are expressively changed to in with the article: in the water and in the blood. Our apostle beholds the mystical coming, the coming as of his person, enveloped in these elements.

Spirit… witness—At his baptism the descending Spirit, in form as a dove, identified him as the Son in whom God was “well pleased.” The same Spirit was secured by his death to be the witnessing heritage of the Church, commencing his work on the memorable day of Pentecost.

Spirit… truth—The Spirit is not only true, but is very truth itself, as God is very love itself. It is the Spirit whose testimony gives force to the tokens, water and blood; which elevates and transforms them into witness; by which means the witnesses are three.


Verse 7

7. For—Scholars are agreed, at the present day, that this entire verse and the words in earth in the following verse are not genuine; being a late interpolation and not the words of St. John. They are omitted in all Greek manuscripts previous to the sixteenth century; by all the Greek fathers, and by many of the Latin fathers. They are omitted in the early editions of the Latin Vulgate. The text was never used by the Orthodox fathers of the early Church in defending the doctrine of the Trinity against Arius. That doctrine was established in the Church without any aid from this text. It is not needed for that purpose now, and it cannot be justifiably quoted as proof in that discussion.


Verse 8

8. And… witness—Literally, And three are they who bear witness. It is remarkable that the words three are masculine, implying persons, and one is neuter, implying thing or substance. It is not without a shadow of reason, therefore, that Augustine found an indication of the Trinity in the words. Very similar is the Greek in the words “I and my Father are one,” where “one” is neuter. The water represents the Father, the author of our regeneration; the blood represents the propititiating Son; and these, with the Spirit, ever witness in the world to the Messiahship of him that came. And as the Spirit, so the water and the blood are ever present witnesses in the Church through the sacraments of baptism and eucharist.

Agree in one—Literal Greek, these three are into one. The three persons converge into a unit.

It can hardly be doubted that there is an intended correspondence between these words and those in John 19:34-35. John there states, with great emphasis, that he beheld and bare record to the marvellous fact that blood and water came forth from the Saviour’s side. It is obvious that he viewed that water and blood as witnesses to the fact that the dying Jesus was truly a Saviour, both by atoning blood and by purifying water. Similarly striking are the Baptist’s words attesting the Spirit’s testimony of the divine Sonship. “I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34.

From all this we derive a solemn proof that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper are a perpetual institution of the Church, bearing record with the Spirit that Jesus is our permanent propitiation and sanctification. In the eucharist we “show forth the Lord’s death until he come.” And the baptismal commission extended “to the end of the world.” 1 Corinthians 11:26; Matthew 28:19-20.


Verse 9-10

9, 10. The surety of this august witness or testimony, 1 John 5:9-10. It is far above all human testimony, as God is above man.

Witness of men—On the testimony of two or three unimpeached oaths of men we take the life of a fellow-being by the courts. Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15.

For—The clause and I say this for, or because, is here to be mentally supplied, and the emphasis is to be laid on God. The testimony from Christ is from God, and therefore comes under the law that God’s witness is greater than man’s. Man may swear falsely, but God cannot be a liar or perjurer.


Verse 10

10. Witness in himself—As it is the Spirit (as noted above) which gives force and life to the water and blood, by which they become witnesses, so that Spirit becomes indwelling, with its three-fold testifying power, in the believer’s soul. And as that Spirit is God and truth, so we have an inward surety of demonstration far above what men as witnesses, or narratives, can impart. The testimony, the witness, the record, is within us as a divine intuition, possessing the highest conceivable certainty.

He that believeth not God—As we believe not a perjuring human witness.

A liar—Our apostle allows not the unbeliever the chance of saying, Perhaps it is not God who testifies. It is not only a sure testimony, but it is just as sure that the testifier is God. If, therefore, the truth of the testimony is denied, the divine veracity is impeached. It is a personal issue between man and God.

Record—In all these verses the word record and witness are the same Greek word, signifying testimony, and should have been translated uniformly.


Verse 11-12

3. The results of faith are eternal life, with present answered prayer, 1 John 5:11-17.

11, 12. Of this testimony, so divinely sure, we now are to have, through the rest of the chapter, the result. It is summed up in the word life; life in Christ and Christ in us, so that in us is the life. In the background, death, 1 John 5:16, and the wicked one, 18, and the world, 19, shadow a dark contrast. So we have the great antithesis, the battle-array, in which faith is the sure conqueror, 1 John 5:4, and life, present and future, the sure prize.


Verse 13

13. Have I written—I wrote, the epistolary Greek tense. A retrospective glance over the whole epistle, implying an approaching close.

Believe… know—To awaken your belief, and show you how the believe may solidify into a know.

Have eternal life—Already deposited within you, to be unfolded and perpetuated in the eternal future. Note on John 4:14.

Believe—And the know becomes again a permanent and realizing believe. The intuitive assurance itself is a ground to believe in the reality of the thing so known.


Verse 14

14. This is included in the confidence embraced in the above believe and know. This confidence is a firm feeling of the heart embodying itself in free expression. The indwelling life puts forth a confident utterance.

According to his will—The utterance expresses both our will and God’s.

Heareth us—As we are not dumb, arising from our life, so he is not deaf, like the idols of 1 John 5:21, or like the “unknown absolute” of the pantheist. The common life of God and us constitutes a medium of blessed intercommunication. Our lips are vocal and his ear is sensitive.


Verse 15

15. Know that he hear us—If we live in a consciousness that we have access to the divine ear. We also know, in spite of apparent failures, that we have the petitions or askings, either in the things themselves or some blessed equivalents.

We desired—Rather, (in the perfect tense,) we have ever asked of him. Our askings have never been in vain, even though the specified thing has never come. They all redound upon us in divine blessedness.


Verse 16

16. If—A specific example of a prayer heard, with its possibility of apparent failure. Yet it is not only a specific instance, but it lies within the category of life, illustrating how the life may be conservative of life.

Sin… not unto death—And so the prayer accords with the divine will, 1 John 5:14, as it would not in the case of a sin unto death.

But the much mooted question here encounters us, What is this sin unto death? The phrase was familiar to the Jews. Upon Numbers 18:22 the rabbies based a distinction of sins unto death and not unto death. But when the phrase is transferred to the New Testament it does not necessarily retain precisely the same import. Whitby assumes that the case supposed is that of a sick brother, smitten with a penal disease. The prayer of the faithful can raise him, unless the sin has been an irrevocably mortal one. To this Huther objects that the death must be the antithesis to the eternal life of this entire chapter, and therefore cannot be a bodily but an eternal death. To this objection it seems a fair reply to say, that death by divine penalty is truly a part of, and truly is, eternal death. The true refutation of Whitby, we think, is: 1. That the brother is not seen suffering the penalty of the sin, but actually committing it, or sinning a sin, as the Greek literally Isaiah , , 2. We can hardly imagine that so important a part of the condition of the brother as sickness would be left unmentioned: Huther (followed by Alford) maintains, that the sin unto death is such an apostasy that the brother passes from the condition of life eternal to that of the eternal death, which is its opposite, on earth. It would then seem to follow, that if we see one once a Christian actually denying Christ’s mission, he is not to be prayed for.

But before giving our own conclusion let us raise the query: Does our apostle assume that it is really known whether the sin of the brother is a sin unto death? We think clearly not. For John goes on to reaffirm, as a thing they need to fully learn, that there is such a distinction as unto death, and not. And he gives it as an explanation why in the case the prayer is not (according to 1 John 5:15) granted; namely, because (according to 1 John 5:14) it was not according to his will. We, therefore, hold that the sin unto death is the “unpardonable sin,” the sin against the Holy Ghost of Matthew 12:31-32, where see our notes. He shall, if he pleases, ask; it shall be his divine privilege.

And he shall give him life—Grammatically this he, like the former, means the praying man, who gives by the power of prayer. But let him not charge God with unfaithfulness if the prayer fail of fulfilment, and the sinning brother prove hard and obdurate. His was then a sin unto death; and life for him was not according to his will, 1 John 5:14.

There is—A deliberate reaffirmation of the actuality of such a sin. It is reaffirmed both as a most solemn fact and as a solution of ungranted prayer. Huther correctly says that I do not say is no absolute prohibition. It is only a declining to advise prayer if the deadly nature were known. Let him leave that to God, pray in hope, but be not disappointed, or discontented with God, if it prove the unpardonable sin.


Verse 17

17. Unrighteousness—All wrongdoing or voluntary wrong-being. It may be an offence against man; it may be a corrupting of our own nature; it may be a small act, even a thought; but in each and every case it is appropriated by God as an offence against himself, and so is a sin.

Not unto death—It may be a small offence, a shortcoming, a moral error, and then, though a sin, it is not unto death. There may be an underlying spirit of repentance, of elastic repellance, so that it may not forfeit our justification or destroy our regeneration. And even if it render us unregenerate, it is not, therefore, necessarily unpardonable. Repentance may restore our sonship of God.


Verse 18

4. Summarizing conclusion, with final admonition, 1 John 5:18-21.

18. Sinneth not—The continuous present again. For the very case presented above of a sin committed by a brother, which is not unto death, presupposes that the regenerate can and does commit a sin. He does not live in the practice of sin as an unregenerate does. See notes on 1 John 3:8-9. He does not, like the Nicolaitan, live in unrighteousness, and say it is not sin. He does not, like the regular sinner, sin without repugnance or repentance, as if it were natural and congenial to him.

Keepeth himself— Watches and guards himself. Unless he does this he loses his regenerate character.—the character incompatible with free sinning.

Wicked one— The devil.

Toucheth him not—Rather, gets not possession of him; that is, so long as he keepeth himself. Keepeth and toucheth are instances of the continuous present tense.


Verse 19

19. We know—Six times has the apostle pronounced this know. His religion is not a guess so, or a hope so, but a know so. And this know so arises from the witness in himself, (1 John 5:10;) namely, the divine witness of the divine three of 1 John 5:8. There is no uncertainty about it, though the world deny it; for the testimony of God is greater than that of men, 1 John 5:9; and the testifier is the divine Spirit, who is the very truth itself, 1 John 5:6.

In wickedness—Rather, in the wicked one, as it is translated, the very same Greek word, in 1 John 5:18. So the regenerate are said to be in Christ; so in the next verse they are said to be in the true One. The Church is Christ’s mystical body, and into him every regenerate member is mystically embodied. And so in fearful contrast the unregenerate world lieth in the antichrist, Satan. Note on 1 John 2:15.


Verse 20

20. Is come—Literally, cometh. This does not allude to any perpetual coming of Christ; but the present is used to indicate what takes place in the divine order. Adam falls and Christ comes. It refers to his first advent, as the past tense of hath given shows.

Him that is true—Rather, the true One, God. The word true does not signify veracious or truthful, but genuine or real, in opposition to the idols of next verse, which are fictitious or unreal gods. Many of John’s readers had been their worshippers, and Christ had come and given them understanding of the sole true God.

In him that is trueIn the true One, as if identified with and embodied in him, as the world lieth in the wicked one.

Even—The Italics indicate that this word is not in the Greek, but supplied by the translators, incorrectly. The meaning is, that we are in God by being in his Son.

This… true God—The question is, Does this refer to God or Christ? If to the latter, it is a strong text in proof of the divinity of Christ. Hence, as Alford affirms, the older commentators divided in their interpretations according to their doctrinal prepossessions. But later exegetes acting, like himself, from purely exegetical reasons, refer it to God—him that is true.

For referring it to Christ: 1. Christ is the nearest antecedent, being last named. 2. Christ is called life, and God never. To the first it is replied: 1. God is the main and leading subject in mind, and Christ is merely incidental, and in such cases the more distant noun is often held the true antecedent. 2. The continued epithet true implies the continuity of the same subject, God. 3. God is the more natural antithesis to idols, and is, therefore, the unchanged subject through both verses. To the second there seems no very clear reply; yet Alford answers: 1. By quoting John 17:3, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” This is a striking parallel passage; yet not God, but the knowledge of God, is therein declared to be eternal life. 2.

By saying that Christ is never called eternal life, but life; which is true, and yet eternal life is meant when life is thus predicated. On the whole, the argument is very evenly balanced, with a slight preponderance in favour of God. At any rate, the text cannot be quoted with any very just confidence in proof of the divinity of Christ.


Verse 21

21. Idols—As above remarked, John’s immediate readers were probably expected to be mostly Gentiles brought by Christ to an understanding of the true One. They were surrounded on every hand with idols in Ephesus and in all Asia Minor. In Ephesus the temple of Artemis (Diana) was still standing in pride and power. Hence it became the little body of Christians, one and all, to beware of idols. It is the last tender warning of the venerable apostle to his little children at this same Ephesus, to keep themselves from Artemis and her images, and adhere to the true God in his Son Jesus Christ. John closes with as emphatic an abruptness as he commences this epistle. Note on 1 John 1:1. But there was a special danger arising from the seductions of the errorists condemned in this epistle; who, in fact, advocated the participating in the sacrificial banquets of the pagan temples. An idol is an image, a pretence, a phantom, an unreality, in opposition to the true God, (1 John 5:20,) who is the infinite reality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-john-5.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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