1 John 2
Pulpit Commentary
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
Verses 1, 2. - Moreover, walking in the light involves accepting the propitiation wrought through Jesus Christ the Righteous. The connexion with the preceding is close. We have just had

(1) the confession that we do sin; we now have

(2) the principle that we must not sin; and

(3) the consolation that sin is not irremediable. Verse 1. - My little children; or, perhaps, my dear children; or, simply, my children. The diminutive τεκνία, if it retains any force, expresses endearment rather than smallness or youth. The word occurs only once outside this Epistle (John 13:33), and it was, perhaps, from Christ's use of it then that St. John adopted it (verses 12, 28; 1 John 3:7, 18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21). In Galatians 4:19 the reading is doubtful Cf. Τί με φεύγεις, τέκνον τὸν σαυτοῦ πατέρα; in the beautiful story of St. John and the young robber (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' III. 23:17). As distinct from παιδία (1 John 2:13, 18), the word seems to imply spiritual fatherhood. These things (the section, 1 John 1:5-10) I write to you, that ye may not sin. The aorist forbids the rendering, "continue in sin;" as before, those who are walking in light and yet sin through frailty are addressed. Two apparently contradictory principles have been set forth: you must walk in light; you must confess that you sin. St. John now goes on to reconcile them. I write

(1) to charge you not to sin;

(2) [to tell you that] if we sin, we have an Advocate.

Instead of understanding "to tell you that," we may take καί as "and yet" - a frequent use in St. John. There are two seemingly opposite truths - sin is wholly alien from the Christian, and the Christian is never wholly free from sin; and St. John struggles to give them their right balance, not in the dialectical manner of St. Paul, but by stating them alternately, side by side, varying the point of view. We have an Advocate. The possession of the Advocate is as continual ἔχομεν as of the sin (1 John 1:8). Every one feels that "a Comforter with the Father" is an impossible rendering. But St. John alone uses the word Παράκλητος, four times in his Gospel of the Spirit (see on John 14:16), and once here of Christ. Is it likely that he would use so unusual and important a word in two different senses, and that in two writings intended as companions to one another? The rendering "Advocate," necessary here, carries with it the rendering "Advocate" in the Gospel. Moreover, what is the meaning of ἄλλος Παράκλητος, if Christ is an Advocate, but the Spirit a Comforter? If Christ is one Advocate and the Spirit "another Advocate," all is intelligible. Philo frequently uses παράκλητος of the high priest as intercessor for the people, and also of the Divine Λόγος. There is a difference, however, between "Paraclete" as used of the Spirit and as used of Christ. It is applied to the Spirit in his relation to the disciples; to Christ in his relation to the Father. Christ is our Advocate πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα: his advocacy turns towards the Father to propitiate him. And not in vain; for he is himself "righteous." A sinner could not reconcile God to sinners; but a righteous Advocate can, for his character is a warrant for the righteousness of his cause. Thus, δίκαιον is the set-off to ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ. One who has sinned needs an advocate; one who has not sinned can best undertake the office. Δίκαιον at the end, without the article, is gently suggestive of the plea, "Jesus Christ, a Righteous One."
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
Verse 2. - And he (not quia nor enim, but idemque ille) is a Propitiation for our sins. Ἱλασμός occurs here and chapter 1 John 4:10 only in the New Testament. St. Paul's word is καταλλαγή (Romans 5:11; Romans 11:15; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19). They are not equivalents; ἱλασμός has reference to the one party to be propitiated, καταλλαγή to the two parties to be reconciled. Ἀπολύτρωσις is a third word expressing yet another aspect of the atonement - the redemption of the offending party by payment of his debt (Romans 3:24, etc.). Although ἱλασμός does not necessarily include the idea of sacrifice, yet the use of the word in the LXX, and of ἱλάσκεσθαι (Hebrews 2:27) and ἱλαστήριον (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:5) in the New Testament, points to the expiation wrought by the great High Priest by the sacrifice of himself. It is ἱλασμός, and not ἱλαστήρ, because the prominent fact is Christ as an Offering rather than as One who offers. With the περί, cf. John 8:46; John 10:33; John 16:8. Our sins are the subject-matter of his propitiatory work. And not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. Again we seem to have an echo of the prayer of the great High Priest (John 17:20, 24). The propitiation is for all, not for the first band of believers only. The sins of the whole world are expiated; and if the expiation does not effect the salvation of the sinner, it is because he rejects it, loving the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). No man - Christian, Jew, or Gentile - is outside the mercy of God, unless he places himself there deliberately. "It seems clear that the sacrifice of Christ, though peculiarly and completely available only for those who were called, does in some particulars benefit the whole world, and release it from the evil in which the whole creation was travailing" (Jelf).
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
Verses 3-6. - Thirdly, walking in the light involves obedience. Verse 3. - And herein we perceive that we know him, if we keep his commandments γινώσκομεν, we come to know, we recognize; ἐγνώκαμεν, we have come to know, we know). The token of our having this knowledge is stated hypothetically; not because, but if, we obey. To serve under another and obey him is one of the best ways of knowing his character. The knowledge is no mere intellectual apprehension, such as the Gnostic, postulated, but a moral and spiritual affection and activity. It is possible to know and hate (John 16:24). Again, the knowledge is not a mere emotional appreciation. Christianity knows nothing of piety without morality. To know Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey and imitate him. By "keep" τῆρῶμεν is recant "keep the eye fixed upon, observe."
He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Verse 4. - The participial substantive ὁ λέγων now takes the place of ἐάν with the subjunctive, but the two are equivalent (cf. 1 John 1:6, which is almost exactly parallel to this, and shows what "knowing him" really is, viz. having fellowship with him, just as not keeping his commandments is the same as walking in darkness). St. John says, μὴ τηρῶν, not, οὐ τηρῶν, the case being hypothetical - if there be such a man, he is a liar, and has no idea of truth (see on 1 John 1:8). He must have lost the very power of recognizing truth to maintain that he knows Christ, when he habitually transgresses his commands. It is no great thing, as Bode says, to know as the devils do, who "believe and tremble."
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
Verse 5. - Once more (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9) the opposite is stated and the thought carried further. But whoso keepeth his word (his doctrine as a whole, including the separate commandments), of a truth in him hath the love of God been perfected; i.e., as an accomplished fact; the relation of love has been established. In St. John ἀληθῶς is no mere expletive; it expresses reality, and reality that is known. From verse 4 we might have expected "of a truth he knoweth God;" but the apostle goes beyond this, and shows that really knowing God involves loving him (comp. 1 John 4:11). The context shows that τοῦ Θεοῦ is objective - his love of God rather than God's love of him. The insertion of τοῦ Θεοῦ here, and the drift of the Epistle thus far, are in favour of αὐτόν and αὐτοῦ in verses 3-5 meaning God rather than Christ, although αὐτός in verse 2 tells the other way. The last clause sums up and reaffirms, but as usual with a new turn of thought, the whole section (verses 3-5), which begins and ends with ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν. Knowing God implies keeping his Word; and keeping his Word involves loving him; and all this implies being in him, i.e., having that fellowship with him and his Son in which the Christian's life (which is eternal life) consists, and to promote which St. John publishes his Gospel (1 John 1:3, 4).
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Verse 6. - Profession involves an obligation to act up to the profession. "He who says that he abides in God is by his words morally bound to walk even as his Son, the incarnate Revelation of his will, walked." The change from ἐν αὐτῷ to ἐκεῖνος confirms the view that αὐτόν and αὐτοῦ mean the Father; but St. John's use of ἐκεῖνος to recall with emphasis a previous subject (John 1:8, 18, 33; John 5:11; John 9:37; John 10:1; John 12:48) makes this argument inconclusive. To be or abide in God or in Christ implies an habitual condition, not isolated apprehensions of his presence. Obedience, not feeling, is the test of union; and the Christian who is really such has least to tell of "experiences" of special visitations. He who is ever in the light has few sensible illuminations to record. Note the strong καθώς, even as (not merely ὡς, as); nothing less than "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13) is to be aimed at. "Ye therefore shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Verses 7-28. -

(2) Negative side. What walking in the light excludes; the things and persons to be avoided - hatred of a brother, love of the world, antichrists. To this section verses 7, 8 form an introduction, as chapter 1 John 1:5, 7 to the positive side. Verse 7. - Beloved; ἀγαπητοί, not ὀδελφοί, is the true reading. Addresses of this kind commonly introduce a fresh division of the subject, main or subordinate. Thus ἀγαπητοί (1 John 4:1, 7); τεκνία (1 John 2:1); παιδία (1 John 2:18); ἀδελφοί (1 John 3:13). Sometimes, however, they introduce an earnest conclusion (1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:21; 1 John 5:21). In 1 John 4:11 ἀγαπητοί introduces a conclusion which serves as a fresh starting-point. Not a fresh commandment do I write to you, but an old commandment. Where it can be conveniently done, it is worth while distinguishing καινός, "fresh," as opposed to "worn out," "obsolete," from νέος, "new," as opposed to "old, aged." "New wine must be put into fresh skins" (Mark 2:22). Are two commandments meant - one to cultivate brotherly love, the other to walk as Christ walked? Or is there only one, which from different points of view may be regarded as either new or old? Commentators are divided; but the latter seems better. Then what is the commandment which is at once new and old? The whole gospel, or the command to love one another? John 13:34 and John 15:2 will incline us to the latter view. The command was old, for" Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18) was part of the Mosaic Law. But the standard was new: "Even as I loved you;" "Even as he also walked;" and the motive was new: because "God so loved us" (1 John 4:11). Brotherly love, enforced by such an example, and based on such a fact, was a new command as compared with the cold injunction of the Law. From the beginning may have either of two senses:

(1) from of old, i.e., long before the Gospel;

(2) from the beginning of your career as Christians. This new and yet old command sums up the practical side of the gospel which had been preached to them from the first. The second ἀπ ἀρχῆς it spurious.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
Verse 8. - Again. The πάλιν indicates another point of view - what in one sense was not fresh, in another sense was so. It is impossible to be certain as to the meaning of ὅ ἐστιν ἀληθὲς κ.τ.λ.. It may mean

(1) "which thing (the newness of the command) is true;" or

(2) "as a fresh commandment I am writing to you a thing which is true."

But for the practical example of the life of Christ, and men's acceptance of it, the command to love one's neighbour might have remained old and become obsolete. Ὅτι is almost certainly "because," not "that;" it introduces the reason why he writes, not the substance of, the fresh commandment. How can "the darkness is passing away," etc., be a commandment? The light, the true light τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν; i.e., the real, the perfect, the very light, that which most fully realizes the ideal of light; in opposition to those "wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved for ever" (Jude 1:13; cf. John 1:4, 9; John 6:32; John 15:1). Christ is the perfect Light, as he is the perfect Bread and the perfect Vine.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
Verses 9-11. - Walking in the light excludes all hatred towards brethren, for such hatred is a form of darkness. These verses set forth in a variety of forms the affinity between love and light, hatred and darkness, and the consequent incompatibility between hatred and light. "Hate" μισεῖν is not to be watered down into "neglect" or "fail to love." St. John knows nothing of such compromises. Love is love, and hate is hate, and between the two there is no neutral ground, any more than between life and death, or between Christ and antichrist. "He that is not with me is against me." "Love is the moral counterpart of intellectual light. It is a modern fashion to represent these two tempers as necessarily opposed. But St. John is at once earnestly dogmatic and earnestly philanthropic; for the Incarnation has taught him both the preciousness of man and the preciousness of truth" (Liddon). Verse 9. - He that saith. For the fifth time St. John points out a glaring inconsistency which is possible between profession and fact (ἐὰν εἴπμεν, 1 John 1:6, 8, 10; ὁ λέγων, 1 John 2:4.9); cf. 1 John 4:20. In all these passages the case is put hypothetically; but in some of the Gnostic teaching of the age this inconsistency existed beyond a doubt. Is in darkness even until now. His supposing that hatred is compatible with light proves the darkness in which he is. Nay, more, it shows that, in spite of his having nominally entered the company of the children of light, he has really never left the darkness. "If ye loved only your brethren, ye would not yet be perfect; but if ye hate your brethren, what are ye? where are ye?" (St. Augustine).
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
Verse 10. - Whereas he who loves his brother has not only entered the region or' light, but has made it his home: he abideth in the light. It is difficult to determine whether the "occasion of stumbling" σκάνδαλον is in reference to himself or to others. The context here and John 11:9, 10 are in favour of the former. It is a man's own salvation that is under consideration here, not his influence over others: and προσκόπτει ὅτι τὸ φῶς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ seems exactly parallel. To have no light in one is to be in danger of stumbling; to have light in one is to have no occasion of stumbling (comp. Ezekiel 14:3, which is very parallel). But elsewhere in the New Testament σκάνδαλον means a stumbling-block or snare in another's way, not in one's own way; and this makes sense here. There is yet a third explanation. Ἐν αὐτῳ may mean "in it," i.e., "in the light there is no occasion of stumbling." This makes a good antithesis to the close of verse 11, "knoweth not whither he goeth."
But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
Verse 11. - Note the alternation: verse 10 is the antithesis of verse 9, and verse 11 of verse 10, repeating and enlarging verse 9. Note also the climax effected by the gradual increase of predicates: in verse 9 one, in verse 10 two, in verse 11 three. The brother-hater has darkness as his habitual condition and as the atmosphere in which he lives and works; and long ago (aorist) the continual darkness deprived him of the very power of sight, so that he is in ignorance as to the course he is taking. Cf. "They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness" (Psalm 82:5); "The fool walketh in darkness" (Ecclesiastes 2:14). "St. John scouts all the pretences of men to illumination which do not involve the practical acknowledgment of brotherhood. A man may say he is in the light as much as he pleases; but to be in the light implies that he is able to see his brethren, and not to stumble against them" (Maurice).
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
Verses 12-14. - Before passing on to the second thing which walking in the light excludes, viz. love of the world (verses 15-17), the apostle twice makes a threefold address, first stating why he writes γράφω, and secondly why he wrote ἔγραψα, to the three classes named. This suggests several questions.

(1) What is the difference between "I write" (or, "am writing") and "I wrote" (or, "have written;" for this is a case where the English perfect may represent the Greek aorist)? Five answers are given.

(a) The change is made for emphasis: "I write; I wrote; there is nothing more to be said." But in this case the past tense should come first: "I wrote; I write it again." Moreover, we should expect the perfect rather than the aorist, as in ο{ γέγραφα γέγραφα.

(b) "I write" refers to what follows; "I wrote," to what precedes. And some have even tried to find out the three different portions in each part of the Epistle; e.g., "I write to you, little children" (1 John 2:15-17); "to you, fathers" (1 John 2:18-27); "to you, young men" (1 John 2:28-3:22): "I wrote to you, children" (1 John 1:5-7); "to you, fathers" (chapter 1:8-2:2); "to you, young men" (1 John 2:3-11). But this is fanciful and very arbitrary; and in this case also the past tense should come first: "I have written thus far to you; again I proceed to write to you."

(c) "I write" refers to the whole Epistle; "I wrote," to what precedes. This answer has the sanction of the 'Speaker's Commentary;' but it seems to be quite frivolous. What could induce St. John first of all to tell each class that he writes the whole Epistle to them, and then to tell them that he wrote the first part of it to them? There would be little enough sense in first saying that he wrote the beginning to them, and then that he writes the whole to them; but there is no sense in the former statement if it comes after the latter.

(d) "I am writing" is from St. John's point of view, as he pens the growing letter. "I wrote" is from the readers' point of view, as they peruse the completed letter. But what is gained by this change of standpoint? Is it probable that St. John would make three distinct addresses in the position of the writer of the Epistle, and then solemnly repeat them in the position of the recipients of it?

(e) The Epistle is written as a companion to the Gospel: therefore "I write" refers to the Epistle, which he is in the act of composing; "I wrote," to the Gospel, which lies completed before him, and on which the Epistle serves as a commentary. This seems to be the most satisfactory explanation (see on chapter 1 John 1:4).

(2) Who are indicated by the three classes? In the first triplet, τεκνία, as elsewhere in the Epistle (verses 1, 28; 1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:4, 5, 21), refers to his readers as a whole, of whom πάτρες and νεανίσκοι are two component divisions. This is probably the case in the second triplet also, although the change from τεκνία to παιδία renders this a little doubtful (see on verse 13).

(3) Does the difference between "fathers" and "young men" refer to age as men or age as Christians? Probably the former. In both Gospel and Epistle St. John writes to mature and well-instructed Christians. The following table will illustrate the view taken: -

I write this Epistle: ? Reasons for writing it:

1. To all of you. ? You have been forgiven.

2. To the old among you ? You have knowledge of the Word.

3. To the young among you. ? You have conquered the evil one.

I wrote my Gospel: ? Reasons for writing it:

1. To all of you (?). ? You have knowledge of the Father.

2. To the old among you ? You have knowledge of the Word.

3. To the young among you. ? You have strength, have God's revelation in your hearts, and have conquered the evil one. Verse 12. - I am writing to you, little children (see on verse 1), because, etc. Beyond reasonable doubt, ὅτι, is "because," not "that," in verses 12-14; it gives the reason for his writing, not the substance of what he has to say (cf. verse 21). For his Name's sake must refer to Christ, not only because of the context, but also of the instrumental διά (cf. 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:13; John 1:12); and Christ's Name means his character, especially as Saviour. Because they have already partaken of the ἱλασμός (verse 2), and have had their sins washed away in the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7), therefore he writes to them this Epistle. Note the perfects throughout, indicating the permanent result of past action: ἀφέωνται ἐγνώκατε νενικήκατε.
I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
Verse 13. - Because ye know (literally, have come to know, as in verses 3, 4) him that is from the beginning τὸν ἀπ ἀρχῆς. The context respecting Christ's Name and ο{ η΅ν ἀπ ἀρχῆς (1 John 1:1) show that the Word and not the Father is meant. A more perfect knowledge of Jesus as the Eternal Word, and no mere aeon or emanation from the Deity, is the special prerogative of the aged Christian; and such are fit recipients of the ἀγγελία of the apostle. No less fit, but for a different reason, are the younger among his readers. To fight is the lot of the young soldier; and a victorious warfare against Satan is the distinction of youthful Christians. They have got the better of that evil one in whose power the whole world lies (1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18, 19; John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11). Not that the warfare is over, but that it is henceforth warfare with a defeated enemy. Hence they also have a right to share in the apostolic message. I wrote (or, have written) to you, children, because ye know (or, have come to know) the Father. The reading ἔγραψα must be preferred to γράφω, on overwhelming evidence, both external and internal. The second triplet begins here, and this sentence should have been given to verse 14. It is difficult to determine what is meant by the change from τεκνία to παισία. Τεκνία occurs once with μου (verse 1), and six times without μου in the Epistle, and once in the Gospel (John 13:33), the probable source of this form of address. Παιδία occurs in verse 18 (see note) and John 21:5, and nowhere else in the New Testament as a form of address. Probably both words are applied to the whole of St. John's readers. Some would limit παιδία to actual children; but in that case we should expect a different order - children, young men, fathers; or fathers, young men, children. These "children" know the Father to whom they have been reconciled by forgiveness of sins; they have become his adopted sons through the Name of his own Son (verse 12).
I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
Verse 14. - The address to the fathers remains unchanged; their claim to Gospel and to Epistle is the same. The address to the young men is enlarged; their claim to the Gospel is that they are strong to fight, have God's revelation of himself as a permanent possession in their hearts, and have won victories over Satan. The context and John 5:38 and John 10:35 utterly forbid us from understanding ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ of the "living Personal Lord" (cf. John 17:6, 14, 17; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4).
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Verses 15-17. - Secondly, walking in the light excludes all love of the world. This is another form of darkness. Verse 15. - Love not the world. Obviously, both "love" and "the world" are used in a different sense in John 3:16, where it is said that "God loved the world." The one love is selfish, the other unselfish. In the one case "the world" means the sinful elements of human life, in the other the human race. It is most important to distinguish the different meanings of κόσμος in the New Testament. Connected with κόμειν and comere, it means

(1) ornament (1 Peter 3:3);

(2) the ordered universe, mundus (Romans 1:20);

(3) the earth (John 1:9);

(4) the inhabitants of the earth (John 3:16);

(5) all that is alienated from God, as here and frequently in St. John's writings. The things of the world are not those things in the world which may become objects of sinful affection, such as wealth or honour, still less such as scenery or physical objects. St. John is not condemning a love of those material advantages which are God's gifts, nor of nature, which is God's work. He is forbidding those things the love of which rivals and excludes the love of God - all those immoral tendencies and pursuits which give the world its evil character. The world κόσμος is order; the things in the world are the elements of disorder - those things which arise from each man making himself the center of the world, or of some little world of his own creation. These rival centers clash with one another, and also with the one true Center. All this St. John forbids. With τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, cf. τί η΅ν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ (John 2:25). Note the μηδέ (not μήτε), nor yet: "Love not the world; no, nor any of its ways." As so often, St. John goes on to enforce his words by a negative statement of similar but not identical import. Love of the world absolutely excludes the love of the Father. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Some important authorities have τοῦ Θεοῦ for τοῦ Πατρός; the balance is decidedly for the latter.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Verse 16. - He still further emphasizes the command by explaining the negative statement just made. Everything that is in the world has as its source, not the Father, but the world. This shows clearly that τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ cannot mean material objects capable of being desired; these have their origin in God who created them (John 1:3). To assert otherwise is rank Gnosticism or Manicheism. But God did not create the evil dispositions and aims of men; these have their source in the sinful wills of his creatures, and ultimately in "the ruler of this world" (John 8:44). The three genitives which follow are subjective, not objective. The lust of the flesh is not merely the lust after the flesh, but all lust that has its seat in the flesh (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 2:3). The lust of the eyes is that lust that has its origin in sight (Augenlust) - curiosity, covetousness, etc. (cf. "the lusts of their hearts," "the lusts of your body," Romans 1:24; Romans 6:12). In the world of St. John's day the impure and brutal spectacles of the theatre and the arena would supply abundant illustrations of these ἐπιθυμίαι. The vain-glory of life, or arrogancy of living, is ostentation exhibited in the manner of living; the empty pride and pretentiousness of fashion and display. It includes the desire to gain credit which does not belong to us, and outshine our neighbours. In Greek philosophy βίος is higher than ζωή: βίος is the life peculiar to man; ζώη is the vital principle which he shares with brutes and vegetables, In the New Testament ζωή is higher than βίος is the life peculiar to man; ζωή is the vital principle which he shares with God. Contrast βίος here; 1 John 3:17; Luke 8:14, 43; Luke 15:12, 30, etc., with ζωή in 1 John 1:1, 2; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:11, 12, 16; John 1:4; John 3:36; John 5:24, 26, etc. Βίος occurs only ten times in the New Testament (in 1 Peter 4:3 it is a false reading), ζωή more than a hundred and twenty times. Each of the three forms of evil here cited by St. John as typos of τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ are dangerous at different periods of a man's life; each also has been a special danger at different periods of the world's history.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Verse 17. - Seeing, then, that the love of the world and the love of the Father are absolutely incompatible, which must we choose? Not the former, for its object is already passing away; while not only does the Father abide for ever, but he who loves him and does his will abides for ever also. The antithesis, as usual, is a progress; it carries us beyond the limits of the original statement. The world is passing away like a dissolving view. It has its sentence of death in itself; its decay has begun. And even if it were not passing away, our capacity for enjoying it would none the less certainly come to an end. "The sensualist does not know what the delights of sense are; he is out of temper when he is denied them; he is out of temper when he possesses them" (Maurice). To love the world is to lose everything, including the thing loved. To love God is to gain him and his kingdom. Some men would have it that the external world is the one thing that is certain and permanent, while religion is based on a mere hypothesis, and is ever changing its form. St. John assures us that the very reverse is the case. The world is waning: it is God alone and his faithful servants who abide. As St. Augustine says, "What can the world promise? Let it promise what you will, it makes the promise, perhaps, to one who tomorrow will die." The will of God is the exact antithesis of "all that is in the world." The one is the good power "that makes for righteousness;" the other is the sum of the evil powers which make for sin. Abideth for ever is literally, abideth unto the age (μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). The notion of endlessness is, perhaps, not distinctly included; for that we should rather have had εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν, αἰώνων (Revelation 1:18; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 22:5). The contrast is not between "passing away" and "lasting forever," but between "passing away" and abiding till "the age" comes. But as "the age" is the age of eternity as distinguished from this age of time, the rendering "abideth for ever" is justified. The Jews used" this age" and" the age to come" to distinguish the periods before and after the coming of the Messiah. Christians adopted the same phrases to indicate the periods before and after Christ's second coming; e.g., ὁ αἰὼν οῦτος (Luke 16:8; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20), ὁ νῦν αἰών (1 Timothy 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:12), as opposed to ὁ αἰὼν ἐκεῖνος, (Luke 20:35), ὁ αἰὼν ὁ ἐρχόμενος (Luke 18:30), ὁ μέλλων (Ephesians 1:21), and very frequently, as here and throughout St. John's Gospel and Epistles, simply ὁ αἰών. In Revelation the invariable expression is εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, the τῶν being omitted in Revelation 14:11. The exact meaning here, therefore, is "abideth unto the age," i.e., the coming of Christ's eternal kingdom.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
Verse 18. - Children παιδία here must apply to all those addressed in the Epistle; and this helps to fix the meaning in verse 13. It is the last hour. What does this mean? There is scarcely room for doubt. The perishableness of the world has suggested the thought of its end, and St. John goes on to warn his readers that this thought is full of meaning to them; for they may recognize the time in which they are living as the last hour by the many antichrists that have arisen. "The last hour" can only mean the last hour before the second coming of Christ. Nothing but the unwillingness of Christians to admit that an apostle, and especially the Apostle St. John, could seem to be much in error about the nearness of the day of judgment, could have raised a question about language so plain. All explanations about its signifying the Christian dispensation, or the nearness of St. John's death, or the nearness of the destruction of Jerusalem, must be firmly set aside. How could the rising of antichrists show that the Christian dispensation had begun? It was Christ, not antichrist, that showed that? What had antichrists to do with St. John's death? or with the fall of Jerusalem, which, moreover, had fallen many years before this Epistle was written? Just as the apostles, even after the Resurrection (Acts 1:6), remained grossly ignorant of the nature of Christ's kingdom on earth, so to the last they remained ignorant of its duration. The primitive Church had not yet found its true perspective, and, in common with all Christians of the first age, the apostles believed that Christ would return soon, possibly within the lifetime of some then living. "Yea, I come quickly" (Revelation 22:20) was by them understood in the most literal sense of ταχύ. But it will not surprise those who remember Christ's very strong declaration (Mark 13:32), to find even an apostle in ignorance as to the time of the second advent of Christ. But it may very reasonably and reverently be asked, What becomes of the inspiration of Scripture if an inspired writer tells the Church that the end of the world is near, when it is not near? The question of inspiration must follow that of interpretation, not lead it. Let us patiently examine the facts, and then try to frame a theory of inspiration that will cover them; not first frame our theory, and then force the facts to agree with it. But the question in its proper place requires an answer. The Old Testament prophets were often guided to utter language the Divine meaning of which they did not themselves understand. They uttered the words in one sense, and the words were true in a far higher sense, of which they scarcely dreamed. The same thing is true of the New Testament prophets, though in a less degree, because the gift of Pentecost had given them powers of insight which their predecessors had not possessed. The present text seems to be an illustration of this truth. We can hardly doubt that, in saying, "it is the last hour," St. John means to imply that within a few years, or possibly even less time, Christ will return to judgment. In this sense the statement is not true. But it may also mean that the last period in the world's history has begun; and in this sense we have good reason for believing that the statement is true. "That one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" is not rhetoric, but sober fact. By the Divine standard times are measured, not according to their duration, but their importance; it is their meaning, not their extent, which gives them value. What are all the measureless prehistoric aeons of the material universe compared with the time since the creation of rational life? What are the thousands of years covered by the Old Testament compared with the portion of a century covered by the New? The great crisis in the history of the world, constituted by the life and death of Christ, will never be equaled until he comes again. When he ascended to heaven the last hour sounded. There may follow a silence (as it seemed to St. John) about the space of half an hour, but (as human experience may prove) of half a thousand centuries. Yet the duration of the period, as measured by man, will not alter its essential characteristics; it was, is, and will still remain, "the last hour." Even as ye heard (when ye were instructed in the faith) that antichrist cometh (is destined to come). Antichrist in this also is assimilated to the Christ; he is ὁ ἐρχόμενος. This was the teaching of the gospel (Matthew 24:5, 11, 23-26; Mark 13:22, 23; comp. Acts 20:29; 2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 2:1). What does St. John mean by ἀντίχριστος? The four passages (1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7) in which he uses the term do not enable us to answer the question with certainty. The predominant idea is that of opposition to Christ, and rivalry of Christ, rather than merely of counterfeiting Christ. If ἀντίχριστος were formed on the analogy of ἀντιβασιλεύς and ἀνθύπατος, it would mean "vice-Christ, vicar of Christ." It is, however, analogous to ἀντίθεος ἀντιφιλόσοφος and the Greek for a counterfeit Christ is ψευδόχριστος (Matthew 24:24). But we are left in doubt whether this rival of Christ is a principle or a person. None of the four passages is decisive. Here we are not sure whether the arising of many antichrists proves that the spirit of antichrist is already in the world, or that by them the way is fully prepared for the one personal antichrist. Either the existence of the antichristian character, or the approach of the antichrist, is given as evidence that the day of the Lord is at hand. The latter is the more probable. A great personal opponent to the personal Christ seems to be indicated both by St. John and St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8). The Jews expected a personal opponent of the Messiah to precede the Messiah - Armillus, Gog, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the like (Ezekiel 38:39; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:36); and Christians from the earliest times have expected a similar prelude to the return of the Messiah. The term ἀντίχριστος is absolutely peculiar to St. John in the New Testament. By the ἀντίχριστοι πολλοί he probably means those early heretical teachers, who in various ways denied the Incarnation, and were thus forerunners of the antichrist - the Nicolaitanes, Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Diotrephes, Hymenaeus, and Philetus. Besides these there are practical antichrists. "Let us mark, not the tongue but the deeds. For if all be asked, all with one mouth confess that Jesus is the Christ. Let the tongue keep silent awhile: ask the life. If the Scripture itself shall tell us that denial is a thing done not only with the tongue, but also with deeds, then assuredly we find many antichrists if deeds are to be questioned, not only do we find many antichrists gone out, but many not yet manifest, who have not gone out at all" (St. Augustine).
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Verse 19. - They went out from us ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν; just as the evil spirit went out of the demoniac (ἐξῆλθεν ἐξ αὐτοῦ, Mark 1:26). But they were not of us οὐκ η΅σαν ἐξ ἡμῶν; they had not their origin with us, just as the unbelieving Jews were "not of God" ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἐστὲ, but of the devil (John 8:23, 44, 47). The emphatic repetition of ἠμῶν, five times in one verse, is quite in St. John's style. The "no doubt" of the Authorized Version, rightly omitted in the Revised Version, probably represents the utique of the Vulgate, which is a mistaken attempt to give a separate word to translate ἄν (compare forsitan in John 4:10; John 5:46. For the elliptical ἀλλ ἵνα, comp. John 1:8). What follows is not clear, and is taken in three ways:

(1) "That all are not of us," which seems to imply that some of them are of us. This can hardly be right.

(2) "That all of them are not of us;" i.e., are aliens (verse 21; 1 John 3:15; Revelation 22:3; Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20; Luke 1:37; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 5:5). But in that case we should expect πάντες οὐκ εἰσίν, not οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες.

(3) Two thoughts are mixed together:

(a) "That they may be made manifest that they are not of us;"

(b) "That it may be made manifest that not all who are with us μεθ are of us ἐξ ἡμῶν." This seems preferable. The renegade and apostate was all along only nominally a Christian. Of the true Christian the declaration remains true, "No one snatcheth them out of his hand."
But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
Verse 20. - The thought of many antichrists suggests that of many Christs; i.e., many who have been anointed χριστοί by the Christ himself. "The false teachers have the spirit of antichrist; ye have a chrism from the Christ." The Johannine καί places the two antithetical groups side by side, while the emphatic ὑμεῖς (comp. 1 John 4:4) accentuates the contrast. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One. The unction or chrism is the Holy Spirit (John 1:33; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 2:27). As Christ was anointed with the Spirit in all fullness, so each Christian is anointed with him in his measure (2 Corinthians 1:21, 22). The twenty-first 'Catechetical Lecture' of St. Cyril, "On the Holy Chrism," should be read in illustration of this verse. "In apostolic language, each Christian is in due measure himself a Christ, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit to announce the truth which he has learnt, to apply the atonement which he has received, to establish the kingdom which he believes to be universal" (Westcott). The ἀπό depends on ἔχετε, not on χρίσμα. The Holy One is Jesus Christ (John 6:69; Acts 3:14; Revelation 3:7; comp. John 14:26; John 16:7, 13). It is hard to decide between three readings:

(1) καὶ οἴδατε πάντα, "and ye know all things" necessary to salvation, i.e., "the truth" (verse 21; John 16:13);

(2) καὶ οἴδατε πάντες, "and ye all know" that ye have this anointing;

(3) οἴδατε πάντες," ye all know - I did not write to you because ye know not the truth." There is evidence of a fourth variation, πάντας "ye know all" the antichrists. If

(1) be right, it does not mean that the Christian is omniscient, but that he has the basis of all knowledge; he can see things in their right proportions. The apostle's own disciple, St. Polycarp, writes to the Philippians
I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
Verse 21. - The first οὐκ belongs to ὅτι, not to ἔγραψα: I wrote to you, not because ye know not, etc. It does not mean "I omitted to write to you because ye know not." Whatever meaning we give to the aorists in verses 13, 14 need not be retained here. There is here no abrupt change from present to aorist. Moreover, verse 26 limits this ἔγραψα to the present section. What in verse 20 is spoken of as "all things" (assuming πάντα to be right) is here spoken of as "the truth." St. John writes to well-instructed Christians, to adults in the faith. It is precisely because they "know the truth" that he addresses them, especially to warn them against antichrists. We are in doubt whether καὶ ὅτι, depends upon ἔγραψα ("and because")or upon οἴδατε ("and that"). The former is better; it introduces a second reason for his writing. Some take ὅτι, in all three places as "that" after ἔγραψα: "I did not write to you and say that ye know not the truth, but that ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth." Every lie is fundamentally and ab origine ἐκ separate from the truth; and hence his readers will easily recognize lies and liars, for they know the truth.
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
Verse 22. - Who is the liar, but he that denieth, etc.? From the lie St. John passes on to the utterer of it. "Ye readily distinguish any lie from the truth. Who, then, is the liar?" "The liar" does not mean the liar κατ ἐξοχήν, as if this denial constituted the very acme of falsehood. To deny the very existence of God is surely a worse lie. Still less can we say that "the context leaves no doubt that 'the liar' is the same with 'the antichrist.'" The article ὁ ψεύστης refers to the preceding ψεῦδος, just as in 1 John 5:4, 5 ὁ νικῶν refers to the preceding νίκη. The very form of sentence is the same: τίς ἐστιν ὁ νικῶν... εἰ μὴ ὁ κ.τ.λ. and there ὁ νικῶν cannot mean the victor, κατ ἐξοχήν, who is Christ, and not the believer. So that the Authorized Version is not so very inaccurate in rendering ὁ ψεύστης "a liar." "Who tells lies, if not he who denies (and says) that Jesus is not the Christ?" This was the great Gnostic lie to which St. John's Gospel and Epistle give the answer. The antichrist is this, he who denieth the Father and the Son. "The antichrist" here is not the great adversary, but one having similar characteristics. He denies the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus virtually denies both the Father and Son (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). This truth St. John proceeds to restate and develop.
Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Verse 23. - Every one who denieth the Son not only does that, but οὐδέ doth not possess the Father. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is to deny the Son of God, for the Christ is the incarnate Son; and to deny the Son of God is to deny the Father also, for the incarnate Son is the Revelation of the Father; and not only so, but to deny the Son is to cut one's self off from the Father, for "no one knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." To emphasize this great truth St. John uses his favourite motive of stating it both negatively and positively. To deny the Son is not to have the Father; to confess the Son is to have the Father (comp. 1 John 1:5, 8; 1 John 2:4, 27; 1 John 3:6; 1 John 4:2, 3, 6, 7, 8; 1 John 5:12). Note the solemn asyndeta. There is not a single connecting particle in verses 22-24; the sentences fall on the ear like minute-guns. "Every one that denieth." There is no exception. Even an apostle, if he denies that Jesus is the Christ. thereby also loses all possession of the Father. The history of philosophy verifies the statement. Deism has ever a tendency to end in pantheism or atheism.
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
Verses 24-28. - Exhortation to abide in the truth and in God. Verse 24. - The οϋν of the T.R. must certainly be rejected. The ὑμεῖς placed first marks the antithesis, "as for you," as distinct from the antichrists. With singular caprice the Authorized Version renders St. John's favourite verb, μένειν, in three different ways in this one verse - "abide," "remain," "continue;" thereby losing the emphasis of the repetition: "Let the good seed abide in your hearts; not be snatched away by the evil one. Then not only will it abide, but ye also καὶ ὑμεῖς will abide in the Son, and therefore with the Father." From the beginning; when they first heard the gospel, as distinct from what they have since heard from false teachers.
And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
Verse 25. - And the promise which he promised us is this, even the eternal life. Αὐτός is Christ; αὕτη looks forward to "the eternal life," not backwards to the abiding in the Father (John 3:16; John 5:24; John 6:40, 54). Τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον is in the accusative by attraction to ἥν. "What St. John would have us feel is this, that there can be no promise to compare with this - that we should share the eternal life, the life of God.... We often speak as if people were to be paid for being good; not as if the being good were itself God's highest gift and blessing" (Maurice). The reading ὑμῖν (B) for ἡμῖν is worthy of notice. In verses 16, 17 St. John gives two reasons for shunning the world: because

(1) the world is alien to the Father;

(2) it is passing away.

So here he gives two for holding fast the truth originally delivered to them: because the truth leads

(1) to fellowship with God;

(2) to eternal life.
These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
Verse 26 resumes for a moment and concludes the section respecting antichrists. "These things" refers to what precedes, especially verses 18-23, as distinct from what now follows. The present participle τῶν πλανώντων indicates the continual attempt of these false teachers to lead the "little children" astray. Ἔγραψα, as in verse 21, is the "epistolary aorist" (see on 2 John 1:4).
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
Verse 27. - Parallel to verse 24, but stating as a fact what is there given as a command. The emphatic ὑμεῖς again marks the emphatic contrast between St. John's readers and the antichrists. Απ αὐτοῦ means "from Christ" (verse 20). The indicative μένει states what ought to be true of them, and is a delicate equivalent to μενέτω (verse 24). The anointing of Christ τὸ χρίσμα αὐτου abides with them as a permanent gift, and renders further apostolic teaching unnecessary. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the superfluous teaching refers to the antichrists. The ideal to which the Christian must aspire is the being led into all truth by the Spirit; he will need no human teachers then (see the remarkable parallel to this in Jeremiah 31:33, and the quotation of it in Hebrews 8:10, 11). The construction in the middle of the verse is amphibolous. We may take καὶ ἀληθές ἐστὶν either as the apodosis of ὠς ("as his anointing teacheth you... so it is true") or as a continuation of the protasis, which is resumed by καθώς ("as his anointing teacheth you... and is true... and even as"). Thereafter is better. The emphatic "and is no lie" is thoroughly Johannine (see on verse 23). The conclusion of the verse is doubtful also. The reading μένετε is certainly preferable to μενεῖτε; but μένετε may be indicative like μένει in the first clause, or imperative like μένετε in the next verse. The latter is more probable.
And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
Verse 28. - And now, summing up the whole section (verses 18-28). "If he shall be manifested" expresses no uncertainty as to the fact of Christ's appearing; the uncertainty is in the time (comp. 1 John 3:2; John 6:62; John 12:32; John 14:3). In all these cases the point is the result of the act, not the time of it. The graphic αἰσχυνθῶμεν ἀπ αὐτοῦ expresses the shrinking away in shame from his presence. The παρουσία (see on 2 Thessalonians 2:8) is introduced without explanation as a well-known belief.
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
Verse 29. - This verse forms a bridge between the two main divisions of the Epistle. The coming of Christ suggests the righteousness of Christ; for it is as the righteous Judge that he is coming, and those who would not be ashamed to meet him at his coming must be righteous also. Once more (verse 27) we are in doubt between indicative and imperative: γινώσκετε, in spite of the preceding μένετε and following ἴδετε, is probably indicative. To know that God (not Christ; comp. 1 John 1:9; John 17:25) is righteous is to perceive that every doer of his τήν righteousness is a son of God (not of Christ; we are nowhere in Scripture said to be born of Christ). To partake of that righteousness which is God's nature is proof of birth from him. With ποιεῖν τὴν δικαιοσύνην, compare ποιεῖν τὴν ἀληθείαν (1 John 1:6; John 3:21). Righteousness must be shown in conduct; mere desire to be righteous will not suffice. And the conduct must be habitual ὁ ποιῶν not ὁ ποιήσας; a single act of righteousness will not suffice. Note the change from εἰδῆτε to γινώσκετε. To know (intuitively) that God is righteous is to come to know (by experience) that whoever habitually acts righteously is God's offspring.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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