1 John 1:1
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
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[1.The Exordium (1John 1:1-4).

(1)OBJECT AND PURPOSE OF THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING: The setting forth of the historical Christ for the spread of human fellowship with the Father and the Son (1John 1:1-3).

(2)DESIGN OF THE EPISTLE: Fulness of joy for those who should read it (1John 1:4).]

(1) That which was from the beginning.—The profound emotion, the hearty sympathy, the tender anxiety which St. John feels as he begins his counsels to his friends, mark off this introduction very distinctly from the parallel passage in the Gospel. There it was calm contemplation of the height and depth of Christ’s existence; here he vehemently insists on the personal relation between the Word and those to whom He had been revealed.

As in the Gospel, he starts with the grandeur of an indefiniteness beyond which no eye can pierce: At the beginning of all that concerns us, be it world or universe or all creation, there was——that which we are announcing. “That which,” not “Him who,” because it is not merely the Person of Christ which he is going to declare, but also His Being, all that relates to Him, His gospel, the treasures of wisdom that lay in Him, His truth, all that could be known about Him by human ken.

The vibrating eloquence of the passage makes the construction at first sight obscure. But take “that declare we unto you” (1John 1:3) as the principal verb, set aside 1John 1:2 as a parenthesis, notice the rising climax of 1John 1:1 (heard, seen, looked upon, handled), pause at the end of 1John 1:1 to sum up the results of this climax in the words “of (or, that which concerns) the Word of life,” and at the beginning of 1John 1:3 resume the thoughts interrupted by the parenthesis, and all is at once clear.

Which we have heard.—All those gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth, enough to fill countless books could they have been noted down. St. John has given us more of these than any other of the Evangelists; and their effect upon him was such that it is almost the same as if he had written down nothing at all of his own; for the thought and style of Him who had loved him more intimately than others, had moulded his own thought and style into a strikingly close resemblance. “We” includes ail the eye-witnesses. (Comp. Luke 1:2.)

Which we have seen.—All that is meant by the Word of God in its fullest sense had been seen in the human Person of Jesus of Nazareth during His earthly sojourn, and especially during the three years’ ministry. In a similar sense Jesus Himself said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” John 14:9. (Comp. 1John 4:14; Isaiah 40:5; 2Peter 1:16.)

With our eyes.—This gives the same force as “the Word was made flesh;” it was an actual personal visible revelation, as opposed to the evolving of a religious system out of the inner consciousness or reflection.

Which we have looked upon.—A more deliberate and closer contemplation; for which John had special opportunities, as one of the inner three, and again as he who lay on Jesus’ bosom. There is a change of tense implying emphasis on the historic fact, “which in those days we gazed upon.”

And our hands have handled.—Comp. Matthew 26:49; Luke 24:39; John 20:27. This and the foregoing expressions might be directed against Cerinthus and the Doketists—those that held that Christ was only a phantom.

Of the Word of life.All that concerns the Word of the true Life, the Reason, or Son, or Express Image of God, in whom was inherent all life, material as well as moral or religious. (Comp. John 1:4; John 5:26; John 11:25; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3.)

(2) For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.—The parenthesis reiterates with redoubled force that the whole essence of the relation of God to man lies in the audible, visible, tangible, historical appearance of God in Jesus. After the manner of St. John, the word “life” at the end of the last sentence suggests the form of the phrasing in the new sentence: Jesus was that Eternal Life which was at the side of the Father, in communion with Him, in equal intercourse with Him; that Life on which all other existence, physical and spiritual, depend (1) for its license to exist, (2) for its fulfilment of the end for which it was created. (See Note on John 1:4.)

1 John 1:1. That which was — That is, as the expression here means, the word which was, namely, with the Father, (1 John 1:2,) before he was manifested; from the beginning — This phrase sometimes means the beginning of the gospel dispensation, as 1 John 2:7-8, and is thus interpreted here by Whitby, Doddridge, and Macknight. But if the apostle be speaking, as the context seems to show he is, of the eternal Word, the Son of God, he could not mean to tell us merely that he existed from the beginning of the gospel, for who needed to be informed of that? since it was well known by all professing Christians, that, even as to his human nature, he had existed near thirty years before the gospel dispensation was in any degree opened by the ministry of his forerunner, John the Baptist. The expression, from the beginning, here seems to be equivalent with in the beginning, (John 1:1,) and therefore to mean from the beginning of time, or rather, from eternity; that which we — The apostles; have heard — Most credibly attested by authentic witnesses; nay, have heard discoursing to us times innumerable; which we have seen with our eyes — And that not only daily, for three years before his crucifixion, but repeatedly after his resurrection from the dead; which we have looked uponΕθεασαμεθα, have contemplated; the word is different from that rendered we have seen, in the former clause; and denotes their beholding him attentively, and considering maturely and diligently his person and conduct, his words and actions, his doctrine, sufferings, and miracles, and all the other particulars by which he manifested the reality and extraordinary nature of his life in the flesh. And our hands have handled, &c. — Here the apostle seems chiefly to allude to what Christ said to his disciples when he appeared to them after his resurrection, and said, Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have, Luke 24:39. On many other occasions, however, the disciples had an opportunity of handling their Master, and knowing that he had a real body. For example, when he washed their feet; when he took Peter by the hand to prevent him from sinking as he walked on the water; when the disciples gave him the loaves and fishes, and when he, after multiplying them, put them into their hands to be distributed to the multitude. John, in particular, had an opportunity of feeling Christ’s body when he leaned on his bosom during the last passover supper, John 13:23. Of the Word of life — He is termed the Word, John 1:1, the Life, John 1:4, as he is the living word of God, who with the Father and the Spirit, is the fountain of life to all creatures, particularly of spiritual and eternal life.

1:1-4 That essential Good, that uncreated Excellence, which had been from the beginning, from eternity, as equal with the Father, and which at length appeared in human nature for the salvation of sinners, was the great subject concerning which the apostle wrote to his brethren. The apostles had seen Him while they witnessed his wisdom and holiness, his miracles, and love and mercy, during some years, till they saw him crucified for sinners, and afterwards risen from the dead. They touched him, so as to have full proof of his resurrection. This Divine Person, the Word of life, the Word of God, appeared in human nature, that he might be the Author and Giver of eternal life to mankind, through the redemption of his blood, and the influence of his new-creating Spirit. The apostles declared what they had seen and heard, that believers might share their comforts and everlasting advantages. They had free access to God the Father. They had a happy experience of the truth in their souls, and showed its excellence in their lives. This communion of believers with the Father and the Son, is begun and kept up by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The benefits Christ bestows, are not like the scanty possessions of the world, causing jealousies in others; but the joy and happiness of communion with God is all-sufficient, so that any number may partake of it; and all who are warranted to say, that truly their fellowship is with the Father, will desire to lead others to partake of the same blessedness.That which was from the beginning - There can be no doubt that the reference here is to the Lord Jesus Christ, or the "Word" that was made flesh. See the notes at John 1:1. This is such language as John would use respecting him, and indeed the phrase "the beginning," as applicable to the Lord Jesus, is unique to John in the writings of the New Testament: and the language here may be regarded as one proof that this Epistle was written by him, for it is just such an expression as "he" would use, but not such as one would be likely to adopt who should attempt to palm off his own writings as those of John. One who should have attempted that would have been likely to introduce the name "John" in the beginning of the Epistle, or in some way to have claimed his authority. The apostle, in speaking of "that which was from the beginning," uses a word in the neuter gender instead of the masculine, (ὅ ho.) It is not to be supposed, I think, that he meant to apply this term "directly" to the Son of God, for if he had he would have used the masculine pronoun; but though he had the Son of God in view, and meant to make a strong affirmation respecting him, yet the particular thing here referred to was "whatever" there was respecting that incarnate Saviour that furnished testimony to any of the senses, or that pertained to his character and doctrine, he had borne witness to.

He was looking rather at the evidence that he was incarnate; the proofs that he was manifested; and he says that those proofs had been subjected to the trial of the senses, and he had borne witness to them, and now did it again. This is what is referred to, it seems to me, by the phrase "that which," (ὅ ho.) The sense may be this: "Whatever there was respecting the Word of life, or him who is the living Word, the incarnate Son of God, from the very beginning, from the time when he was first manifested in the flesh; whatever there was respecting his exalted nature, his dignity, his character, that could be subjected to the testimony of the senses, to be the object of sight, or hearing, or touch, that I was permitted to see, and that I declare to you respecting him." John claims to be a competent witness in reference to everything which occurred as a manifestation of what the Son of God was.

If this be the correct interpretation, then the phrase "from the beginning" (ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς ap' archēs does not here refer to his eternity, or his being in the beginning of all things, as the phrase "in the beginning" (ἐν ἀρχῇ en archē) does in John 1:1; but rather means from the very commencement of his manifestation as the Son of God, the very first indications on earth of what he was as the Messiah. When the writer says 1 John 1:3 that he "declares" this to them, it seems to me that he has not reference merely to what he would say in this Epistle, for he does not go extensively into it here, but that he supposes that they had his Gospel in their possession, and that he also means to refer to that, or presumes that they were familiar with the testimony which he had borne in that Gospel respecting the evidence that the "Word became flesh." Many have indeed supposed that this Epistle accompanied the Gospel when it was published, and was either a part of it that became subsequently detached from it, or was a letter that accompanied it. See Hug, Introduction P. II. Section 68. There is, it seems to me, no certain evidence of that; but no one can doubt that he supposed that those to whom he wrote had access to that Gospel, and that he refers here to the testimony which he had borne in that respecting the incarnate Word.

Which we have heard - John was with the Saviour through the whole of his ministry, and he has recorded more that the Saviour said than either of the other evangelists. It is on what he said of himself that he grounds much of the evidence that he was the Son of God.

Which we have seen with our eyes - That is, pertaining to his person, and to what he did. "I have seen him; seen what he was as a man; how he appeared on earth; and I have seen whatever there was in his works to indicate his character and origin." John professes here to have seen enough in this respect to furnish evidence that he was the Son of God. It is not hearsay on which he relies, but he had the testimony of his own eyes in the case. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 1:16.

Which we have looked upon - The word used here seems designed to be more emphatic or intensive than the one occurring before. He had just said that he had "seen him with his eyes," but he evidently designs to include an idea in this word which would imply something more than mere beholding or seeing. The additional idea which is couched in this word seems to be that of desire or pleasure; that is, that he had looked on him with desire, or satisfaction, or with the pleasure with which one beholds a beloved object. Compare Matthew 11:7; Luke 7:24; John 1:14; John 11:45. See Robinson, Lexicon. There was an intense and earnest gaze, as when we behold one whom we have desired to see, or when one goes out purposely to look on an object. The evidences of the incarnation of the Son of God had been subjected to such an intense and earnest gaze.

And our hands have handled - That is, the evidence that he was a man was subjected to the sense of touch. It was not merely that he had been seen by the eye, for then it might be pretended that this was a mere appearance assumed without reality; or that what occurred might have been a mere optical illusion; but the evidence that he appeared in the flesh was subjected to more senses than one; to the fact that his voice was heard; that he was seen with the eyes; that the most intense scrutiny had been employed; and, lastly, that he had been actually touched and handled, showing that it could not have been a mere appearance, an assumed form, but that it was a reality. This kind of proof that the Son of God had appeared in the flesh, or that he was truly and properly a man, is repeatedly referred to in the New Testament. Luke 24:39; "behold my hands and my feet, that it is I:myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have." Compare John 20:25-27. There is evident allusion here to the opinion which early prevailed, which was held by the Docetes, that the Son of God did not truly and really become a man, but that there was only an appearance assumed, or that he seemed to be a man. See the Introduction, Section 3. It was evidently with reference to this opinion, which began early to prevail, that the apostle dwells on this point, and repeats the idea so much, and shows by a reference to all the senses which could take any cognizance in the case, that he was truly and properly a man. The amount of it is, that we have the same evidence that he was properly a man which we can have in the case of any other human being; the evidence on which we constantly act, and in which we cannot believe that our senses deceive us.

Of the Word of life - Respecting, or pertaining to, the Word of life. "That is, whatever there was pertaining to the Word of life, which was manifested from the beginning in his speech and actions, of which the senses could take cognizance, and which would furnish the evidence that he was truly incarnate, that we have declared unto you.' The phrase "the Word of life," means the Word in which life resided, or which was the source and fountain of life. See the notes at John 1:1, John 1:3. The reference is undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus Christ.



Authorship.—Polycarp, the disciple of John [Epistle to the Philippians, 7], quotes 1Jo 4:3. Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.39] says of Papias, a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, "He used testimonies from the First Epistle of John." Irenæus, according to Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 5.8], often quoted this Epistle. So in his work Against Heresies [3.15; 5, 8] he quotes from John by name, 1Jo 2:18, &c.; and in [3.16,7], he quotes 1Jo 4:1-3; 5:1, and 2Jo 7, 8. Clement of Alexandria [Miscellanies, 2.66, p. 464] refers to 1Jo 5:16, as in John's larger Epistle. See other quotations [Miscellanies, 3.32,42; 4.102]. Tertullian [Against Marcion, 5.16] refers to 1Jo 4:1, &c.; [Against Praxeas, 15], to 1Jo 1:1. See his other quotations [Against Praxeas, 28; Against the Gnostics, 12]. Cyprian [Epistles, 28 (24)], quotes as John's, 1Jo 2:3, 4; and [On the Lord's Prayer, 5] quotes 1Jo 2:15-17; and [On Works and Alms, 3], 1Jo 1:8; and [On the Advantage of Patience, 2] quotes 1Jo 2:6. Muratori's Fragment on the Canon of Scripture states, "There are two of John (the Gospel and Epistle?) esteemed Catholic," and quotes 1Jo 1:3. The Peschito Syriac contains it. Origen (in Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 6.25]) speaks of the First Epistle as genuine, and "probably the second and third, though all do not recognize the latter two"; on the Gospel of John, [Commentary on John, 13.2], he quotes 1Jo 1:5. Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen's scholar, cites the words of this Epistle as those of the Evangelist John. Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.24], says, John's first Epistle and Gospel are acknowledged without question by those of the present day, as well as by the ancients. So also Jerome [On Illustrious Men]. The opposition of Cosmas Indicopleustes, in the sixth century, and that of Marcion because our Epistle was inconsistent with his views, are of no weight against such irrefragable testimony.

The internal evidence is equally strong. Neither the Gospel, nor this Epistle, can be pronounced an imitation; yet both, in style and modes of thought, are evidently of the same mind. The individual notices are not so numerous or obvious as in Paul's writings, as was to be expected in a Catholic Epistle; but such as there are accord with John's position. He implies his apostleship, and perhaps alludes to his Gospel, and the affectionate tie which bound him as an aged pastor to his spiritual "children"; and in 1Jo 2:18, 19; 4:1-3, he alludes to the false teachers as known to his readers; and in 1Jo 5:21 he warns them against the idols of the surrounding world. It is no objection against its authenticity that the doctrine of the Word, or divine second Person, existing from everlasting, and in due time made flesh, appears in it, as also in the Gospel, as opposed to the heresy of the Docetæ in the second century, who denied that our Lord is come in the flesh, and maintained He came only in outward semblance; for the same doctrine appears in Col 1:15-18; 1Ti 3:16; Heb 1:1-3; and the germs of Docetism, though not fully developed till the second century, were in existence in the first. The Spirit, presciently through John, puts the Church beforehand on its guard against the coming heresy.

To whom addressed.—Augustine [The Question of the Gospels, 2.39], says this Epistle was written to the Parthians. Bede, in a prologue to the seven Catholic Epistles, says that Athanasius attests the same. By the Parthians may be meant the Christians living beyond the Euphrates in the Parthian territory, outside the Roman empire, "the Church at Babylon elected together with (you)," the churches in the Ephesian region, the quarter to which Peter addressed his Epistles (1Pe 5:12). As Peter addressed the flock which John subsequently tended (and in which Paul had formerly ministered), so John, Peter's close companion after the ascension, addresses the flock among whom Peter had been when he wrote. Thus "the elect lady" (2Jo 1) answers "to the Church elected together" (1Pe 5:13). See further confirmation of this view in [2636]Introduction to Second John. It is not necessarily an objection to this view that John never is known to have personally ministered in the Parthian territory. For neither did Peter personally minister to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, though he wrote his Epistles to them. Moreover, in John's prolonged life, we cannot dogmatically assert that he did not visit the Parthian Christians, after Peter had ceased to minister to them, on the mere ground of absence of extant testimony to that effect. This is as probable a view as Alford's, that in the passage of Augustine, "to the Parthians," is to be altered by conjectural emendation; and that the Epistle is addressed to the churches at and around Ephesus, on the ground of the fatherly tone of affectionate address in it, implying his personal ministry among his readers. But his position, as probably the only surviving apostle, accords very well with his addressing, in a Catholic Epistle, a cycle of churches which he may not have specially ministered to in person, with affectionate fatherly counsel, by virtue of his general apostolic superintendence of all the churches.

Time and place of writing.—This Epistle seems to have been written subsequently to his Gospel as it assumes the reader's acquaintance with the Gospel facts and Christ's speeches, and also with the special aspect of the incarnate Word, as God manifest in the flesh (1Ti 3:16), set forth more fully in his Gospel. The tone of address, as a father addressing his "little children" (the continually recurring term, 1Jo 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21), accords with the view that this Epistle was written in John's old age, perhaps about A.D. 90. In 1Jo 2:18, "it is the last time," probably does not refer to any particular event (as the destruction of Jerusalem, which was now many years past) but refers to the nearness of the Lord's coming as proved by the rise of Antichristian teachers, the mark of the last time. It was the Spirit's purpose to keep the Church always expecting Christ as ready to come at any moment. The whole Christian age is the last time in the sense that no other dispensation is to arise till Christ comes. Compare "these last days," Heb 1:2. Ephesus may be conjectured to be the place whence it was written. The controversial allusion to the germs of Gnostic heresy accord with Asia Minor being the place, and the last part of the apostolic age the time, of writing this Epistle.

Contents.—The leading subject of the whole is, fellowship with the Father and the Son (1Jo 1:3). Two principal divisions may be noted: (1) 1Jo 1:5-2:28: the theme of this portion is stated at the outset, "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all"; consequently, in order to have fellowship with Him, we must walk in light (1Jo 1:7); connected with which in the confession and subsequent forgiveness of our sins through Christ's propitiation and advocacy, without which forgiveness there could be no light or fellowship with God: a farther step in thus walking in the light is, positively keeping God's commandments, the sum of which is love, as opposed to hatred, the acme of disobedience to God's word: negatively, he exhorts them according to their several stages of spiritual growth, children, fathers, young men, in consonance with their privileges as forgiven, knowing the Father, and having overcome the wicked one, not to love the world, which is incompatible with the indwelling of the love of the Father, and to be on their guard against the Antichristian teachers already in the world, who were not of the Church, but of the world, against whom the true defense is, that his believing readers who have the anointing of God, should continue to abide in the Son and in the Father. (2) The second division (1Jo 2:29-5:5) discusses the theme with which it opens, He is righteous; consequently (as in the first division), "every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him." Sonship in us involves our purifying ourselves as He is pure, even as we hope to see, and therefore to be made like our Lord when He shall appear; in this second, as in the first division, both a positive and a negative side are presented of "doing righteousness as He is righteous," involving a contrast between the children of God and the children of the devil. Hatred marks the latter; love, the former: this love gives assurance of acceptance with God for ourselves and our prayers, accompanied as they are (1Jo 3:23) with obedience to His great commandment, to "believe on Jesus, and love one another"; the seal (1Jo 3:24) of His dwelling in us and assuring our hearts, is the Spirit which He hath given us. In contrast to this (as in the first division), he warns against false spirits, the notes of which are, denial of Christ, and adherence to the world. Sonship, or birth of God, is then more fully described: its essential feature is unslavish, free love to God, because God first loved us, and gave His Son to die for us, and consequent love to the brethren, grounded on their being sons of God also like ourselves, and so victory over the world; this victory being gained only by the man who believes in Jesus as the Son of God. (3) The conclusion establishes this last central truth, on which rests our fellowship with God, Christ's having come by the water of baptism, the blood of atonement, and the witnessing Spirit, which is truth. As in the opening he rested this cardinal truth on the apostles' witness of the eye, the ear, and the touch, so now at the close he rests it on God's witness, which is accepted by the believer, in contrast with the unbeliever, who makes God a liar. Then follows his closing statement of his reason for writing (1Jo 5:13; compare the corresponding 1Jo 1:4, at the beginning), namely, that believers in Christ the Son of God may know that they have (now already) eternal life (the source of "joy," 1Jo 1:4; compare similarly his object in writing the Gospel, Joh 20:31), and so have confidence as to their prayers being answered (corresponding to 1Jo 3:22 in the second part); for instance, their intercessions for a sinning brother (unless his sin be a sin unto death). He closes with a brief summing up of the instruction of the Epistle, the high dignity, sanctity, and safety from evil of the children of God in contrast to the sinful world, and a warning against idolatry, literal and spiritual: "Keep yourselves from idols."

Though the Epistle is not directly polemical, the occasion which suggested his writing was probably the rise of Antichristian teachers; and, because he knew the spiritual character of the several classes whom he addresses, children, youths, fathers, he feels it necessary to write to confirm them in the faith and joyful fellowship of the Father and Son, and to assure them of the reality of the things they believe, that so they may have the full privileges of believing.

Style.—His peculiarity is fondness for aphorism and repetition. His tendency to repeat his own phrase, arises partly from the affectionate, hortatory character of the Epistle; partly, also, from its Hebraistic forms abounding in parallel clauses, as distinguished from the Grecian and more logical style of Paul; also, from his childlike simplicity of spirit, which, full of his one grand theme, repeats, and dwells on it with fond delight and enthusiasm. Moreover as Alford well says, the appearance of uniformity is often produced by want of deep enough exegesis to discover the real differences in passages which seem to express the same. Contemplative, rather than argumentative, he dwells more on the general, than on the particular, on the inner, than on the outer, Christian life. Certain fundamental truths he recurs to again and again, at one time enlarging on, and applying them, at another time repeating them in their condensed simplicity. The thoughts do not march onward by successive steps, as in the logical style of Paul, but rather in circle drawn round one central thought which he reiterates, ever reverting to it, and viewing it, now under its positive, now under its negative, aspect. Many terms which in the Gospel are given as Christ's, in the Epistle appear as the favorite expressions of John, naturally adopted from the Lord. Thus the contrasted terms, "flesh" and "spirit," "light" and "darkness," "life" and "death," "abide in Him": fellowship with the Father and Son, and with one another," is a favorite phrase also, not found in the Gospel, but in Acts and Paul's Epistles. In him appears the harmonious union of opposites, adapting him for his high functions in the kingdom of God, contemplative repose of character, and at the same time ardent zeal, combined with burning, all-absorbing love: less adapted for active outward work, such as Paul's, than for spiritual service. He handles Christian verities not as abstract dogmas, but as living realities, personally enjoyed in fellowship with God in Christ, and with the brethren. Simple, and at the same time profound, his writing is in consonance with his spirit, unrhetorical and undialectic, gentle, consolatory, and loving: the reflection of the Spirit of Him on whose breast he lay at the last supper, and whose beloved disciple he was. Ewald in Alford, speaking of the "unruffled and heavenly repose" which characterizes this Epistle, says, "It appears to be the tone, not so much of a father talking with his beloved children, as of a glorified saint addressing mankind from a higher world. Never in any writing has the doctrine of heavenly love—a love working in stillness, ever unwearied, never exhausted—so thoroughly approved itself as in this Epistle."

John's place in the building up of the church.—As Peter founded and Paul propagated, so John completed the spiritual building. As the Old Testament puts prominently forward the fear of God, so John, the last writer of the New Testament, gives prominence to the love of God. Yet, as the Old Testament is not all limited to presenting the fear of God, but sets forth also His love, so John, as a representative of the New Testament, while breathing so continually the spirit of love, gives also the plainest and most awful warnings against sin, in accordance with his original character as Boanerges, "son of thunder." His mother was Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee, probably sister to Jesus' mother (compare Joh 19:25, "His mother's sister," with Mt 27:56; Mr 15:40), so that he was cousin to our Lord; to his mother, under God, he may have owed his first serious impressions. Expecting as she did the Messianic kingdom in glory, as appears from her petition (Mt 20:20-23), she doubtless tried to fill his young and ardent mind with the same hope. Neander distinguishes three leading tendencies in the development of the Christian doctrine, the Pauline, the Jacobean (between which the Petrine forms an intermediate link), and the Johannean. John, in common with James, was less disposed to the intellectual and dialectic cast of thought which distinguishes Paul. He had not, like the apostle of the Gentiles, been brought to faith and peace through severe conflict; but, like James, had reached his Christian individuality through a quiet development: James, however, had passed through a moulding in Judaism previously, which, under the Spirit, caused him to present Christian truth in connection with the law, in so far as the latter in its spirit, though not letter, is permanent, and not abolished, but established under the Gospel. But John, from the first, had drawn his whole spiritual development from the personal view of Christ, the model man, and from intercourse with Him. Hence, in his writings, everything turns on one simple contrast: divine life in communion with Christ; death in separation from Him, as appears from his characteristic phrases, "life, light, truth; death, darkness, lie." "As James and Peter mark the gradual transition from spiritualized Judaism to the independent development of Christianity, and as Paul represents the independent development of Christianity in opposition to the Jewish standpoint, so the contemplative element of John reconciles the two, and forms the closing point in the training of the apostolic Church" [Neander].


1Jo 1:1-10. The Writer's Authority as an Eyewitness to the Gospel Facts, Having Seen, Heard, and Handled Him Who Was from the Beginning: His Object in Writing: His Message. If We Would Have Fellowship with Him, We Must Walk in Light, as He Is Light.

1. Instead of a formal, John adopts a virtual address (compare 1Jo 1:4). To wish joy to the reader was the ancient customary address. The sentence begun in 1Jo 1:1 is broken off by the parenthetic 1Jo 1:2, and is resumed at 1Jo 1:3 with the repetition of some words from 1Jo 1:1.

That which was—not "began to be," but was essentially (Greek, "een," not "egeneto") before He was manifested (1Jo 1:2); answering to "Him that is from the beginning" (1Jo 2:13); so John's Gospel, Joh 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word." Pr 8:23, "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."


heard … seen … looked upon … handled—a series rising in gradation. Seeing is a more convincing proof than hearing of; handling, than even seeing. "Have heard … have seen" (perfect tenses), as a possession still abiding with us; but in Greek (not as English Version "have," but simply) "looked upon" (not perfect tense, as of a continuing thing, but aorist, past time) while Christ the incarnate Word was still with us. "Seen," namely, His glory, as revealed in the Transfiguration and in His miracles; and His passion and death in a real body of flesh and blood. "Looked upon" as a wondrous spectacle steadfastly, deeply, contemplatively; so the Greek. Appropriate to John's contemplative character.

hands … handled—Thomas and the other disciples on distinct occasions after the resurrection. John himself had leaned on Jesus' breast at the last supper. Contrast the wisest of the heathen feeling after (the same Greek as here; groping after WITH THE HANDS") if haply they might find God (see Ac 17:27). This proves against Socinians he is here speaking of the personal incarnate Word, not of Christ's teaching from the beginning of His official life.

of—"concerning"; following "heard." "Heard" is the verb most applying to the purpose of the Epistle, namely the truth which John had heard concerning the Word of life, that is, (Christ) the Word who is the life. "Heard," namely, from Christ Himself, including all Christ's teachings about Himself. Therefore he puts "of," or "concerning," before "the word of life," which is inapplicable to any of the verbs except "heard"; also "heard" is the only one of the verbs which he resumes at 1Jo 1:5.1Jo 1:1-4 The apostle professeth to declare what he had formerly

seen and known of the Word of life, to the end that

others might have fellowship with him.

1Jo 1:5-10 The substance of his doctrine is: That to have

fellowship with God, we must be holy as he is holy;

and that if we confess our sins, we shall be forgiven

through the blood of Christ.

The order of discourse requires we begin with the last

thing in this verse,

the Word of life. This phrase, the Word,

is by this apostle (not here to inquire in what notion some,

both Jews and pagans, before took it) familiarly used, to signify the

eternal Son of God: and whereas this is his usual style in speaking of

this sacred Person, as in the entrance of his Gospel, (so very like

that of this Epistle), so often over in his Revelation, Rev 19:13,

and that afterwards in this Epistle itself, 1Jo 5:7, he so

readily falls into the mention of him by this name, (as not doubting

to be understood), it is scarce to be supposed, that being so constant

to himself herein, he should use the same form of speech without any

such intendment in this place, where the circumstances do both allow

and invite us so to understand him. Nor doth the addition to it here,

the Word of life, render it the less fit to be applied to this

purpose, but rather the more; as serving to denote the peculiar

excellency of this Word, that he is the living and vivifying Word;

whereupon he also styles him in the following verse, simply, the

life, and, that eternal life, ( which is fit to be noted here, viz.

that these three expressions, the Word of life, the life, and

that eternal life, do, by the contexture of the discourse, plainly

mean the same thing, and seem in their principal intendment to be set

down as so many titles of the Son of God), designing to represent him

as the original and radical life, the root of the holy, divine life,

to all who partake thereof, agreeably to his own words concerning him

in the Gospel, Joh 1:4, In him (viz. the Word) was life,

and the life was the light of men (i.e. the Word was a vital,

enlivening light); and 1Jo 5:20, He (viz. the Son of God) is

eternal life: and to our Lord's words of himself, I am the life,

Joh 11:25 14:6; and that the Father had given him to

have life in himself, Joh 5:26, and consequently, to be capable

of being to others an original or fountain of life. Yet whereas by

the Word, and the Word of life, is often signified the gospel,

{1Jo 2:5 Phi 2:16; and elsewhere} it seems not incongruous or

disagreeable to this context, to understand the apostle, as designing

to comprehend both the meanings together in one expression, apt enough

to include them both. See Dr. Hammond in loco. Nor are they of so

remote an import, considered in their relation to us, as not fitly to

admit of being both intended at once. The Son of God being his

internal Word, the Word of his mind, his Wisdom, (another appellation

of him, frequent in Scripture, Pro 8:1-36 and elsewhere),

comprehending all ideas of things to be created or done; to us, the

immediate original of light and life, and by whose vivifying beams we

are especially to be transformed into the Divine likeness: the gospel

being his external word, the word of his mouth, the radiation of those

beams themselves. As we do ourselves first conceive, and form in our

minds, what we afterwards utter and express: only whereas our thonght,

or the word of our mind, is fluid, and soon vanishes; God's (in whom

is no change) is permanent, consubstantial and coeternal with himself:

The Word was with God, and the Word was God, Joh 1:1. Neither

are these two senses of the Word of life less fitly (or with more

impropriety) comprehended together under that one expression, than in

common discourse: speaking of the sun in reference to ourselves, we

often comprehend together in our meaning, both the body of the sun

itself and its beams; as when we say it enlightens us, revives us,

shines in at this window, or upon that dial, we do not intend (as

reasonably we cannot) to exclude either, but mean the sun doth it by

its beams. And now the notion being settled of the Word of life,

(which was necessary first to be done, and which required a larger

discourse), we may the more easily perceive, how what is here said of

it may, in the one sense or the other, be applied thereto.

That which was from the beginning; so the living Word, in the

first sense, was, viz. when all things also began; which is not said

itself then to have begun, as Joh 1:1: In the beginning was the

Word, and the Word was with God, and, at the next step, the Word

was God. And with what is said by this Word himself, (then taking

another, but an equivalent, name, the Wisdom of God), Pro 8:22-30:

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works

of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever

the earth was. When, & c.-Then I was by him, as one brought up

with him, & c.: where from the beginning, and from everlasting,

we see is all one. See 1Jo 2:13,14.

Which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands

have handled:
these are all expressions indifferently applicable both:

1. To the person of the Son of God, primarily meant by the Word of life;

for that same glorious Person who was from the beginning with the

Father, viz. being now incarnate, became the object of these their

very senses, to this and the other apostles, who had so frequent

opportunity to hear, and see, and behold him, and even to handle

him with their hands, Luk 24:39 Joh 20:25. And:

2. To the gospel revelation, a secondary (not unintended) notion of

the Word of life, and whereof these latter expressions seem

more especially meant; they denote the perfect certainty the

apostles had (the rest of whom his manner of speaking seems

purposely to comprehend with himself) of that truth, which, as he

after speaks, they testified; it being their office and business as

apostles so to do; see Joh 15:27 Act 1:21,22 4:20; and it was

necessary they should be able to do it with such assurance as these

expressions import.

Therefore having said,

which we have heard, which imports a more

overly notice, it is added,

which we have seen, a much more

certain way of knowing, as 2Pe 1:16,17; and

with our eyes, a

more lively expression of that certainty, as Job expresses his

expected sight of his Redeemer, Job 19:27: and to signify it was

not a casual, transient glance, it is further said, which we have

looked upon, eyeasameya, i.e. studiously, and of set purpose,

bent ourselves to contemplate. Unto all which it is moreover added,

and our hands have handled, eqhlafhsan, which though literally

not otherwise applicable than to the person of our Lord incarnate, yet

is a most emphatical metaphor, elegantly representing their most

certain knowledge and lively sense of his excellent doctrine; as the

expression is usual of a palpable truth, to signify a most evident

one. So is that implied to be a truth that may be felt, that this

world hath a mighty and bountiful Sustainer and Lord, Act 17:27;


That which was from the beginning,.... By which is meant not the Gospel, as if the apostle's design was to assert the antiquity of that, and clear it from the charge of novelty; for though that is called the word, and the word of life, and is the Spirit which gives life, and is the means of quickening dead sinners, and brings the report of eternal life and salvation by Christ, yet the seeing of it with bodily eyes, and handling it with corporeal hands, do not agree with that; but Jesus Christ is here intended, who in his divine nature was, really existed as a divine person, as the everlasting Jehovah, the eternal I AM, which is, and was, and is to come, and existed "from the beginning"; not from the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel by John only, for he was before the Gospel was preached, being the first preacher of it himself, and before John was; yea, before the prophets, before Abraham, and before Adam, and before all creatures, from the beginning of time, and of the creation of the world, being the Maker of all things, even from everlasting; for otherwise he could not have been set up in an office capacity so early, or God's elect be chosen in him before the foundation of the world, and they have grace and blessings given them in him before the world began, or an everlasting covenant be made with him; see John 1:1;

which we have heard; this, with what follows, proves him to be truly and really man; for when the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among men, the apostles heard, and saw, and handled him; they not only heard a voice from heaven, declaring him to be the Son of God, but they often heard him speak himself, both in private conversation with them, and in his public ministry; they heard his many excellent discourses on the mount, and elsewhere, and those that were particularly delivered to them a little before his death; and blessed were they on this account, Matthew 13:16;

which we have seen with our eyes: with the eyes of the body, with their own, and not another's; and they saw him in human nature, and the common actions of life he did, as eating, drinking, walking, &c. and his many miracles; they saw him raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, restore sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, and the deaf to hear; and they saw him transfigured on the mount. John was one that was present at that time, and saw his glory, as he also was when he hung upon the cross, and saw him bleeding, gasping, and dying there; they saw him after his resurrection from the dead, he showed himself to them alive, and was seen of them forty days; they saw him go up to heaven, and a cloud receiving him out of their sight:

which we have looked upon; wistly and intently, once and again, and a thousand times, and with the utmost pleasure and delight; and knew him perfectly well, and were able to describe exactly his person, stature, features, and the lineaments of his body:

and our hands have handled of the Word of life; as Peter did when Jesus caught him by the hand on the water, when he was just ready to sink; and as this apostle did, when he leaned on his bosom; and as Thomas did, even after his resurrection, when he thrust his hand into his side; and as all the apostles were called upon to see and handle him, that it was he himself, and not a spirit, which has not flesh and bones as he had. Now as this is said of Christ, the Word of life, who is so called, because he has life in himself, as God, as the Mediator, and as man, and is the author of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal, it must be understood as he, the Word, is made manifest in the flesh; for he, as the Word, or as a divine person, or as considered in his divine nature, is not to be seen nor handled: this therefore is spoken of the Word, or of the person of Christ, God-man, with respect to his human nature, as united to the Logos, or Word of God; and so is a proof of the truth and reality of his human nature, by several of the senses.

That {1} which was from the beginning, which we have {a} heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the {b} Word of life;

(1) He begins with the description of the person of Christ who he makes one and not two: and him both God from everlasting

(for he was with the Father from the beginning, and is that eternal life) and also made true man, whom John himself and his companions both heard, beheld, and handled.

(a) I heard him speak, I saw him myself with my eyes, I handled with my hands him that is true God, being made true man, and not I alone, but others also that were with me.

(b) That same everlasting Word by whom all things are made, and in whom only is there life.

1 John 1:1. ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς] This thought, indefinite in itself, is more fully explained by the following relative clauses to this extent, that “that which was from the beginning” is identical with that which was the subject of perception by the apostle’s senses. But from the appositional adjunct περὶ κ.τ.λ. and the parenthetical sentence, 1 John 1:2, it follows that John understands by it the λόγος τῆς ζωῆς or the ζωή, and more exactly the ζωὴ ἡ αἰώνιος, which was with the Father and was manifested. That the apostle, however, does not thereby mean a mere abstraction, but a real personality, is clear, first from ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν κ.τ.λ. and ἐφανερώθη, and then especially from the comparison with the prooemium of the Gospel of John, with which what is said here is in such conformity that it cannot be doubted that by ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς the same subject is meant as is there spoken of as ὁ λόγος. The neuter form does not entitle us to understand by ὃ ἦν κ.τ.λ., with the Greek commentators Theophylact, Oecumenius, and the Scholiasts, the “μυστήριον of God,” namely, ὅτι Θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί, or even, with Grotius, the “res a Deo destinatae.” Nor does do Wette’s interpretation: “that which appeared in Christ, which was from eternity, the eternal divine life,” correspond with the representation of the apostle, according to which the ζωή not only was manifested in Christ, but is Christ Himself. By far the greatest number of commentators interpret ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς correctly of the personal Christ. The reason why John did not write ὅς (comp. chap. 1 John 2:13 : τὸν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς), but , cannot, with several commentators (Erdmann, Lücke, Ebrard[24]), be found in this, that John means not only the person in itself, but at the same time its whole history, all that it did and experienced, for ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς (synonymous with ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν, Gospel of John 1:1) is decisive as to the historical manifestation of Christ. Nor is it, with Düsterdieck, to be found in this, “because only this form (the neuter) is wide and flexible enough to bear at the same time the two conceptions of the one … object, the conception of the premundane existence and that of the historical manifestation,” for then each of the four ὅ’s would have to embrace in itself both these ideas, which, however, is not the case. But neither is it, with Hofmann (Schriftbeweis, ed. 2, I. p. 112), this: “because John just wants to describe only the subject of the apostolic proclamation as such;” for this is not the order, that John first describes the subject of the apostolic proclamation only generally, and “then” defines it more particularly, but ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς is itself the more particular definition of the subject of the proclamation. Nor, finally, is it, with Weiss, this, that the apostle does not here mean the Son of God Himself, but “that which constituted the eternal being of the Son,” namely life; for, on the one hand, nothing here points to a distinction of the Son and His being, and, on the other hand, it is not the being of the Son which the apostle heard, saw, handled, but the Son Himself. The neuter is rather to be explained in this way, that to the apostle Christ is “the life” itself; but this idea in itself is an abstract (or general) idea.[25] True, the apostle could have written even ὅς instead of the neuter; but as Christ has His peculiar importance just in this, that He is the Life itself (not merely a living individual),—comp. Gospel of John 14:6,—and as John begins his Epistle filled with this conception, it was more natural for him to write here than ὅς.[26] By ἮΝ ἈΠʼ ἈΡΧῆς John describes Christ as Him who, although at a particular time He was the object of perception by sense, has been from all eternity; the imperfect ἮΝ, however, does not express the premundane, eternal existence, but is explained in this way, that John speaks historically, looking backwards from the point of time at which Christ had become the object of sensuous perception.

ἈΠʼ ἈΡΧῆς] has frequently in the N. T. its more particular determination along with it, as in Mark 13:19, 2 Peter 3:4 : Τῆς ΚΤΊΣΕΩς, or it is easily discovered from the context, as in Acts 26:4. In the passage 2 Thessalonians 2:13, ἈΠʼ ἈΡΧῆς corresponds to the expression used in Ephesians 1:4 : ΠΡῸ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛῆς ΚΌΣΜΟΥ, and is identical with the German “von Ewigkeit her” (from all eternity), for which elsewhere is said: ἈΠῸ ΤῶΝ ΑἸΏΝΩΝ (Ephesians 3:9), or similar words. Here it is explained by the following ἭΤΙς ἮΝ ΠΡῸς ΤῸΝ ΠΑΤΈΡΑ. This existence of Christ with the Father precedes not merely His appearance in the flesh, but also the creation of the world, for according to John 1:2 the world was made by Him; ἈΡΧΉ is therefore not the moment of the beginning of the world, as it is frequently interpreted, but what preceded it (comp. Meyer on Gospel of John 1:1); Christ was before the world was, and is therefore not first from the beginning of the world, as Christ Himself in John 17:5 speaks of a δόξα which He had with the Father ΠΡῸ ΤΟῦ ΤῸΝ ΚΌΣΜΟΝ ΕἾΝΑΙ.[27] The apostle says here ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, because he is looking back from the time when Christ by His incarnation became the object of sensuous perception (similarly Ebrard). It is incorrect either to change the idea of εἶναι ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς into that of existence in the predetermined plan,[28] by which the words are strained, or to interpret ἀρχή here of the beginning of the public activity of Christ in the flesh (Semler, Paulus, and others), by which the connection with 1 John 1:2 is ignored.

ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν κ.τ.λ.] By the four sentences the apostle expresses the thought that that which was from the beginning was the subject of his own perception; the main purpose of them is not “to put forward that which is to be proclaimed about Christ as absolutely certain and self-experienced” (Ebrard), but to bring out and to establish the identity of that which was from the beginning with that which was manifested in the flesh, while he has at the same time in his view the Docetan heresy afterwards mentioned by him.[29] By the with which these sentences begin, nothing else, therefore, is meant than by the of the first sentence, namely Christ Himself (Brückner, Braune); and here the peculiar paradox is to be noticed, which lies in this, that the general (ἡ ζωή) is represented by the apostle as something perceived by his senses. It is erroneous to understand by each of these ὅ’s something different; thus by the first (with ἀκηκόαμεν), perhaps the testimony which was expressed by God Himself (Grotius), or by the law and the prophets (Oecumenius), or by John the Baptist (Nicolas de Lyra), or even the words which Christ uttered (Ebrard); by the second (with ἑωράκαμεν), the miracles of Christ (Ebrard); by the third (with ἐθεασάμεθα), tot et tauta miracula (Grotius), or even “the divine glory of Christ” (Ebrard); and by the which is to be supplied with ἐψηλάφησαν, the resurrection-body of Christ (Ebrard), or, still more arbitrarily, the panes multiplicatos, Lazarum, etc. (Grotius); all these supplementary ideas, which have originated in the incorrect assumption that John refers here to “the various sides of Christ’s appearance in the flesh,” and which can easily be confounded with others, are utterly unjustified, since they are in no way hinted, at in the context. John does not mean here to say that he has experienced this or that in Christ, but that he has heard, seen, looked upon, and handled Christ Himself. In the succession of the four verbs there lies an unmistakeable gradation (a Lapide: gradatim crescit oratio); from ἀκηκόαμεν to ἑωράκαμεν a climax occurs, in so far as we are more certainly and immediately convinced of the reality of an appearance of sense by sight than by hearing; the addition of the words τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν is not, as Lorinus already remarks, a περισσολογία or βαττολογία, but there is in them “plainly an aiming at emphasis, as: to see with one’s own eyes” (Winer, p. 535, VII. p. 564). The third verb ἐθεασάμεθα must not here be taken—with Bede and Ebrard—in the sense of spiritual beholding, by which it is removed from the sphere to which the other verbs belong; it is rather of similar signification with ἑωράκαμεν—in this respect, that, equally with the latter, it indicates the seeing with the bodily eyes. The difference does not, however, lie in this, that θεᾶσθαι = μετὰ θαύματος καὶ θάμβους ὁρᾶν (Oecumenius, a Lapide, Hornejus, etc.), or = attente cum gaudio et admiratione conspicere (Blackwell), by which significations are put into the word which are foreign to it in itself, but in this, that it has in it the suggestion of intention.[30] It is to be remarked that ἐθεασάμεθα is closely connected with the following καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν; for is not repeated here, and both verbs are in the aorist, so that they thus go to form a sort of contrast to the two preceding clauses; whilst ἀκούειν and ὁρᾷν express rather the involuntary perception, θεᾶσθαι and ψηλαφεῖν express acts of voluntary design,—the former the purposed beholding, the latter the purposed touching of the object in order to convince oneself of its reality and of its nature. As both these parts of the clause remind us of the words of the risen Christ: ψηλαφήσατέ με καὶ ἴδετε (Luke 24:39), it is not improbable that John had in his mind the beholding and touching of the Risen One, only it must be maintained at the same time that Christ was one and the same to him before and after His resurrection. In this view, the transition from the perfect to the aorist is naturally explained in this way, that the apostle in the last verbs refers to single definite acts.[31] The plural ἀκηκόαμεν κ.τ.λ. is not plur. majestaticus, but is used because John, although he speaks of himself as subject, still at the same time embraces in his consciousness the other apostles as having had the same experience as himself.

περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς] is not dependent on any of the preceding verbs;[32] it is also inadmissible to explain περί here, with Brückner, in the sense in which it is used in 1 Corinthians 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:12, namely, in order to mark the transition to something new; not only the sense, but also the position of περί prohibits this signification; it is an additional clause in apposition to the preceding descriptions of the object, by which it is stated to what ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, ὀ ἀκηκόαμεν refers. The expression ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς may be in itself a description of the Gospel (so it is taken by Grotius, Semler, Frommann, Ewald, de Wette, Brückner, Düsterdieck, etc.), and τῆς ζωῆς either gen. obj. (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 5:19), or gen. qualitatis (Php 2:16; Gospel of John 6:68); but this acceptation is refuted, first, by the preposition περί, instead of which the simple accusative would have had to be put, for John proclaimed not about the gospel, but the gospel itself (ἀπαγγέλλομεν, 1 John 1:3); then by the close connection of this additional clause with the preceding objective clauses; and, finally, by the analogy with the prooemium of the Gospel of John (1 John 1:1 : ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος; 1 John 1:4 : ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν). These reasons, which are opposed to that explanation, are in favour of the explanation of Hornejus: hic non denotatur sermo s. verbum evangelii, sed Christus, which is also that of most commentators. The opinion of Düsterdieck, that “as John (according to 1 John 1:2) considered the Logos itself as ἡ ζωή, ἡ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, the λόγος in the composition ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς cannot again be the personal Logos,” is overthrown by this, that τῆς ζωῆς in itself is not the name of a person, but of a thing, just as in Gospel of John 1:4, ζωή in the clause ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, and τὸ φῶς τ. ἀνθρ. in the clause καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τ. ἀνθρ. Even ὁ λόγος is the name of a thing; not, indeed, that we should understand by it, first, “the word, which was preached by the apostles,” and then, because this has Christ as its subject, “Christ Himself,” as Hofmann (Schriftbew. ed. 2, I. p. 109 ff.) thinks, for the subject of a word cannot be called the Word (comp. Meyer on Gospel of John 1:1[33]), but ὁ λόγος signifies, in the province of religious thought, κατʼ ἐξοχήν, the Word by which God expressed Himself ἐν ἀρχῇ. Though John of course knows that this Word is the personal Christ, yet in this expression in itself the idea of personality is not yet brought out. This being the case, we will have to understand the compound phrase: ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, first of all as the name of a thing;[34] so that John in this description, which in itself does not express the idea of personality, does not mean to say that that which was from the beginning, and which he has heard, etc., is the person that bears the name ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, but only defines more particularly the object, previously stated indefinitely, in so far that it is the Word of life, i.e. the Word which has life in it (whose nature consists in this, that it is life), and is the source of all life (Braune); comp. John 6:35; John 8:12. In agreement with this, Weiss says (p. 35) that ὁ λόγος is here, as in the prologue of the Gospel, a description of the nature of the Son of God; but the assertion is incorrect, that the genitive τῆς ζωῆς describes the Word as “the Word belonging to life, necessary for life,” in favour of which he appeals incorrectly to the expressions ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς (John 6:35; John 6:48) and ῥήματα ζωῆς αἰωνίου (John 6:68). This explanation is refuted by this, that with it ἡ ζωή, 1 John 1:2, must be taken in a different reference from that which τῆς ζωῆς has here.[35]

The personality of this Word, which has already been indicated by Ὃ ἈΚΗΚΌΑΜΕΝ Κ.Τ.Λ., is still more definitely expressed in 1 John 1:2 by the twofold ἘΦΑΝΕΡΏΘΗ, in which Ὃ ἙΩΡΆΚΑΜΕΝ ΚΑῚ ἈΚΗΚΌΑΜΕΝ of 1 John 1:3 finds its explanation. That in the expression Ὁ ΛΌΓΟς Τῆς ΖΩῆς the emphasis lies on Τῆς ΖΩῆς, is clear from this, that in 1 John 1:2 it is not Ὁ ΛΌΓΟς, but Ἡ ΖΩΉ, that is the subject. The construction with ΠΕΡΊ is thus explained, that the apostle does not thereby mean to speak of the object of his proclamation, which he has already stated in Ὃ ἮΝ ἈΠʼ ἈΡΧῆς Κ.Τ.Λ., but only desires to add a more particular description of it, for which reason also it is not to be regarded as dependent on ἈΠΑΓΓΈΛΛΟΜΕΝ. Braune incorrectly takes it as “a new dependent clause parallel in its matter to the succession of relative clauses, which along with the latter comes to an end in ἈΠΑΓΓΈΛΛΟΜΕΝ.” Ebrard groundlessly finds in this construction the suggestion, that John considers as the object of his proclamation, not Christ “as an abstract single conception” (!), but “his concrete historical experiences of Christ.”

[24] Lücke gives this explanation of the neuter: that John, “seeking to express briefly the idea of the Gospel, combines in this idea the person of Christ, as the incarnate Logos, with His whole history and work.”—Erdmann first remarks: Forma neutrius generis generalis notio e contextis atque Joannis dicendi ratione facile definienda, ad personam Christi aperte referenda significatur, nec solum vis et amplitudo sententiae apte notatur, sed etiam illo quater repetito orationis sublimitati concinnitas additur; and then continues: Praeterea meminerimns, non solum Christi personam per se spectatam hic designari, verum etiam omnia, quae per vitam humanam ab eo perfecta et profecta, acta, dicta, etc. λόγον in eo apparuisse comprobant.—With this the opinion of Ebrard agrees, that shows that the person was not to be proclaimed qua person, not as an abstraction, but in its historical manifestation. Against this, however, it is a valid objection, that John in ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς has plainly in his view the Logos not in, but before its historical manifestation.—When Erdmann appeals, in favour of John’s reference of the neuter to persons, to the passages, Gospel of John 3:6; John 6:39; John 17:2, 1 John 4:4, it is, on the other hand, to be observed that in all these passages the neuter serves to combine the single individuals into a whole that embraces the entirety of them, which permits of no application to the use of here.

[25] Ebrard rejects this explanation as quite erroneous, and as being in contradiction with the acceptation of the verse otherwise. The rashness of this judgment is clearly evident from the question which he adds: “Where would there be even the shadow of a grammatical reference of to ζωῆς?” for a grammatical reference is not and could not be asserted.—Bertheau’s objection (Lücke, Comment. ed. 3, p. 206 f.), that “we would still have to regard the neuter form as a general comprehensive expression which refers both to that to which the apostle ascribes a primeval existence and to that which he has heard with his ears,” etc., is not tenable, for it rests on the unproved assumption that ὁ λόγος τ. ζ. is not identical with that which the apostle regarded as the object of the ἀκούειν κ.τ.λ.

[26] It is unsuitable to explain the , with Braune, in this way, that the apostle, “in view of the mysterious sublimity … wrote in a flight and feeling of indefiniteness.”

[27] That the λόγος before the creation of the world was immanent in God, but by the accomplishment of the act of creation hypostatically proceeded from God (see Meyer on Gospel of John 1:1), is an idea nowhere hinted at in scripture.

[28] Grotius: eae res, quas apostoli sensibus suis percepere, fuerunt a Deo destinatae jam ab ipso mundi primordio.

1 John 1:1-4. The Preface. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we beheld and our hands felt, concerning the Word of Life—and the Life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the Life, the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard, we announce to you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us. Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we are writing that our joy may be fulfilled.”

The Apostle here characterises and commends his Gospel (cf. Introd. p. 154). 1. Its theme—the earthly life of Jesus. No mere biography, since Jesus was not one of the children of men but the Eternal Son of God, the Word made flesh. (a) An ineffable wonder but no dream, an indubitable reality. His readers might doubt it, since they belonged to a later generation and had never seen Jesus; but St. John had seen Him, and he assures them, with elaborate iteration, that it is no dream: “These eyes beheld Him, these hands felt Him”. “Because,” says Calvin, “the greatness of the thing demanded that its truth should be certain and proved, he insists much at this point”. (b) His narrative was necessarily incomplete, since the infinite revelation was larger than his perception or understanding of it. “He would give only a little drop from the sea, not the sea itself” (Rothe). A complete biography of Jesus is impossible, since the days of His flesh are only a segment of His life, a moment of His eternal years. 2. His purpose in writing it: (a) that his readers might share his heavenly fellowship; (b) that his joy might be fulfilled.

1. That which was from the beginning] The similarity to the opening of the Gospel is manifest: but the thought is somewhat different. There the point is that the Word existed before the Creation; here that the Word existed before the Incarnation. With the neuter ‘that which’ comp. John 4:22; John 6:37; John 17:2; Acts 17:23 (R. V.). The Socinian interpretation, that ‘that which’ means the doctrine of Jesus, and not the Incarnate Word, cannot stand: the verbs, ‘have seen’, ‘beheld’, ‘handled’, are fatal to it. In using the neuter S. John takes the most comprehensive expression to cover the attributes, words and works of the Word and the Life manifested in the flesh.

was] not ‘came into existence’, but was already in existence. The difference between ‘to be’ (1 John 1:2) and ‘to come to be’ or ‘become’ (1 John 2:18) must be carefully noted. Christ was from all eternity; antichrists have arisen, have come into existence in time.

from the beginning] The meaning of ‘beginning’ must always depend upon the context. Here it is explained by ‘was with the Father’ in 1 John 1:2. It does not mean the beginning of the gospel, or even of the world, but a beginning prior to that. It is equivalent to ‘from all eternity’. The Gospel is no new-fangled invention, as Jewish and heathen philosophers contended. The same Greek phrase is used in LXX. for ‘Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God?’ (Habakkuk 1:12), and when this is denied of idols (Wis 14:3). See on John 1:1.

which we have heard] With this clause we pass from eternity into time. The first clause refers to something prior to the Creation. Here both the Creation and the Incarnation have taken place. The second clause refers to the teaching of all the Prophets and of the Christ. There is no need to make ‘which’ (better, that which, to bring out the exact similarity of the first four clauses) in the different clauses refer to different things; e.g. the words, miracles, glory, and body of Christ. Rather, each ‘which’ indicates that collective whole of Divine and human attributes which is the Incarnate Word of Life.

have seen with our eyes] Note the climax: seeing is more than hearing, and beholding (which requires time) is more than seeing (which may be momentary); while handling is more than all. ‘With our eyes’ is added for emphasis. The Apostle would have us know that ‘see’ is no figure of speech, but the expression of a literal fact. With all the language at his command he insists on the reality of the Incarnation, of which he can speak from personal knowledge based on the combined evidence of all the senses. The Docetic heresy of supposing that the Lord’s body was unreal, and the Cerinthian heresy of supposing that He who ‘was from the beginning’ was different from Him whom they heard and saw and handled, is authoritatively condemned by implication at the outset. In the Introduction to the Gospel there is a similar assertion; ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us—and we beheld His glory’ (John 1:14). Comp. 2 Peter 1:16.

which we have looked upon &c.] Rather, that which we beheld and our hands handled: we have first an imperfect, then a pair of perfects, then a pair of aorists. ‘Beheld’ implies deliberate and perhaps pleasurable sight (John 1:14; John 1:34; Acts 1:11). We can hear and see without intending to do so; but we can scarcely behold and handle unintentionally. The aorists probably refer to definite occasions on which the beholding and handling took place. ‘Handled’ seems to be a direct reference to the test demanded by S. Thomas (John 20:27) and offered to the other disciples (Luke 24:39, where the same verb is used as here). “The clear reference to the Risen Christ in ‘handled’ makes it probable that the special manifestation indicated by the two aorists is that given to the Apostles by the Lord after the Resurrection, which is in fact the revelation of Himself as He remains with His Church … The tacit reference is the more worthy of notice because S. John does not mention the fact of the Resurrection in his Epistle” (Westcott). Tertullian is very fond of insisting on the fact that the Lord was ‘handled’: Adv. Prax. XV. twice; De Animâ XVII.; De Pat. III.; comp. Ad Uxorem IV. So also Ignatius (Smyr. iii.); “I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the resurrection: and when He came to Peter and his company, He said to them, Take, handle Me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon.” Bede points out that the argument has special force as coming from the disciple who had lain on the Lord’s breast. No greater proof of the reality of His Body before and after the Resurrection could be given.

of the word of life] Better, concerning the Word of life; it is not the single genitive, but the genitive with a preposition. The preposition is strongly in favour of ‘Word’, i.e. the personal Logos, rather than ‘word’, i.e. doctrine. For this preposition used of testimony concerning persons comp. 1 John 5:9-10; John 1:15; John 1:22; John 1:30; John 1:48; John 2:25; John 5:31-32; John 5:36-37; John 5:39; John 5:46, &c. We can hardly doubt, moreover, that ‘Word’ or ‘Logos’ in this Introduction has the same meaning as in the Introduction to the Gospel; especially as the Epistle was written as a companion to the Gospel. ‘The Word’, therefore, means the Son of God, in whom had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man, and who was the living expression of the Nature and Will of God. See on John 1:1 for the history of the term, which is peculiar to the phraseology of S. John. But of the two terms, Word and Life, the latter is here the emphatic one as is shewn by 1 John 1:2 and by the fact that ‘the Life’ is one of the main topics of the Epistle (1 John 2:25, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 5:11-12; 1 John 5:20), whereas ‘the Word’ is not mentioned again. ‘The Word of life’ may be analogous to ‘the tree of life’, ‘the water of life’, ‘the bread of life’, where ‘of life’ means ‘life-giving’; but more probably to ‘the temple of His body’, ‘the sign of healing’, where the genitive is one of apposition. ‘The Word which is the Life’ is the meaning. Christ is at once the Word of God and the Life of man.

Chap. 1 John 1:1-4. The Introduction

That the first four verses are introductory is generally admitted. They are analogous to the first eighteen verses of the Gospel and to the first three verses of the Revelation. Like the Prologue to the Gospel, this Introduction tells us that what the Apostle purposes to write about is the Word who is the Life. At the same time it states the authority with which he writes, an authority derived from the irrefragable evidence of the closest personal experience: and it states also the purpose of the letter,—to complete their joy in the Lord.

1–4. The construction is somewhat involved and prolonged. Such complicated sentences are not common in S. John: but we have similar sentences, extending over three verses, John 6:22-24; John 13:2-4. Various ways of connecting the clauses have been suggested, making ‘is’ understood, or ‘handled’, the main verb, thus; ‘That which was from the beginning is that which we have heard’, or ‘That which was from the beginning, which &c., our hands also touched’. But beyond all reasonable doubt ‘we declare’ is the main verb, and, ‘that which’ in each case introduces the thing declared. 1 John 1:2 is a parenthesis, and then part of 1 John 1:1 is repeated for emphasis and clearness. The complication is due to the crowding of profound thoughts which almost strangle the Apostle’s simple command of language.

“S. John throughout this section uses the plural as speaking in the name of the apostolic body of which he was the last surviving representative” (Westcott).

1 John 1:1. Ὃ ἦν, That which was) John writes his Epistle [which is furnished with a most august exordium.—V. g.] in a simple style, without inscription or conclusion. He does not appear to have sent it abroad, but to have communicated it in person to his hearers. See 1 John 1:4, compared with 2 John 1:12, at the end. He says, That which was from the beginning, for He who was, ch. 1 John 2:13; because that which occurs again immediately. When speaking of God and Christ, the apostle frequently uses a common name for a proper one by the figure Antonomasia, as He Himself, He, The Holy One, The True One, and periphrasis, as He who is from the beginning, etc. In the first clause he marks out λόγον, the Word, Himself; and then the things which they have heard respecting Him.—ἦν, was) even before He was manifested. He was with the Father: see 1 John 1:2.—ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς, from the beginning) The phrase ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, from the beginning, of frequent occurrence in this epistle, is not to be taken in one and the same sense only, but to be explained from each passage which happens to be present: ch. 1 John 2:7; 1 John 2:13-14, 1 John 3:8. In this first passage of the epistle, the phrase from the beginning, comprises the whole state of the Word of life, with the Father, 1 John 1:2, which state preceded his manifestation. Compare the expression, In the beginning, John 1:1, note. Wherefore it is not an unsuitable flight of speech.—ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, that which we have heard) Hearing, the sense by which we receive instruction, is put in the first place, sight follows by gradation. Both are reassumed in 1 John 1:3, where I say may be understood. John proclaims so great an amount of evidence of this manifestation, that it is not now necessary to adduce the prophets: Comp. 2 Peter 1:19, note. He speaks in the plural number in his own name, and in the name of other fathers: ch. 1 John 2:13. He appears to have written at a time, when many of the fathers were still alive.—ἐθεασάμεθα, we beheld) to a very great degree.—περὶ, concerning) They perceived the truth of His flesh, and in it the glory of the only begotten. The word was denotes the latter, was manifested, the former.—τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς, the Word of life) ὁ λόγος, the Word is used by itself, and the Life by itself: whence the Apposition, The Word the Life; then the Word of Life; The Word in whom was life: John 1:4; and the Life, that is eternal; and, life eternal: 1 John 1:2. Thus that title, the God of glory, includes the simple title of God.

Verse 1. - The first clause states what or how the object is in itself; the next three state St. John's relation to it; "which," in the first clause nominative, in the others is accusative. The neuter () expresses a collective and comprehensive whole (John 4:22; John 6:37; John 17:2; Acts 17:23, etc.); the attributes of the Λόγος rather than the Λόγος himself are indicated. Or, as Jelf expresses it, "the neuter gender denotes immaterial personality, the masculine or feminine material personality." In the beginning is not quite the same as in John 1:1; there St. John tells us that the Word was in existence before the world was created; here that he was in existence before he was manifested. Thus far all is indefinite; the philosopher, about to expound a law of nature, might begin, "That which was from the beginning declare we unto you." What follows is in a climax, making the meaning clearer at each step: seeing is more than hearing, and handling than seeing. The climax is in two pairs, of perfects and of aorists; the aorists giving the past acts, the perfects the permanent results. Together they sum up the apostolic experience of that boundless activity of Christ, of which the world could not contain the full account (John 21:25). Beheld ἐθεασάμεθα is more than have seen ἑωράκαμεν. Seeing might be momentary; beholding implies that steady contemplation, for which the beloved disciple had large and abundantly used opportunities. In our hands handled we may see a reference to Luke 24:39, where the same verb is used ψηλαφήσατε; and still more to John 20:27, where the demanded test of handling is offered to St. Thomas, provoking the confession of faith to which the whole Gospel leads up, "My Lord and my God!" Had St. John merely said "heard," we might have thought that he meant a doctrine. Had he merely said "heard and seen," we might have understood it of the effects of Christ's doctrine. But "our hands handled" shows clearly that the attributes of the Word become flesh are what St. John insists on, and probably as a contradiction of Docetism. "Those who read his letter could have no doubt that he was referring to the time when he saw the face of Jesus Christ, when he heard his discourses, when he grasped his hand, when he leaned upon his breast" (Maurice). Between the first clause and what follows lies the tremendous fact of the Incarnation; and St. John piles verb on verb, and clause on clause, to show that he speaks with the authority of full knowledge, and that there is no possible room for Ebionite or Cerinthian error. The first clause assures us that Jesus was no mere man; the others assure us that he was really man. Precisely that Being who was in existence from the beginning is that of whom St. John and others have had, and still possess, knowledge by all the means through which knowledge can have access to the mind of man. (For "seeing with the eyes," cf. Luke 2:30; for θεᾶσθαι of contemplating with delight [Stark 16:11, 14], John 1:14, 34; Acts 1:11.) Concerning the Word of life. "Concerning" περί may depend on "have heard," and, by a kind of zengma, on the other three verbs also; or on the main verb," we declare." "The Word of life" means "the Word who is the Life," like "the city of Rome,... the Book of Genesis;" the genitive case is "the characterizing or identifying genitive." The περί is strongly against the interpretation, "the word of life," i.e., the life-giving gospel. Had St. John meant this, he would probably have written ὅν ἀκηκόαμεν... τὸν λόγον τῆς ζωῆς ἀπαγγέλλομεν (John 5:24, 37; John 8:43; John 14:24); περί is very frequent of persons (John 1:7, 8, 15, 22, 30, 48, etc.). Moreover, the evident connexion between the introductions to his Gospel and Epistle compels us to understand ὁ Λόγος in the same sense in both (see on John 1:1 in this Commentary, and in the 'Cambridge Greek Testament' or 'Bible for Schools'). What St. John has to announce is his own experience of the Eternal Word incarnate, the Eternal Life made manifest (John 14:6); his hearing of his words, his seeing with his own eyes his Messianic works, his contemplation of the Divinity which shone through both; his handling of the body of the risen Redeemer. 1 John 1:1Compare John 1:1, John 1:9, John 1:14. The construction of the first three verses is somewhat involved. It will be simplified by throwing it into three parts, represented respectively by 1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2, 1 John 1:3. The first part, That which was from the beginning - Word of Life, forms a suspended clause, the verb being omitted for the time, and the course of the sentence being broken by 1 John 1:2, which forms a parenthesis: and the Life - manifested unto us. 1 John 1:3, in order to resume the broken sentence of 1 John 1:1, repeats in a condensed form two of the clauses in that verse, that which we have seen and heard, and furnishes the governing verb, we declare. Thus the simple sentence, divested of parenthesis and resumptive words would be, We declare unto you that which was from the beginning, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life.

That which (ὃ)

It is disputed whether John uses this in a personal sense as equivalent to He whom, or in its strictly neuter sense as meaning something relating to the person and revelation of Christ. On the whole, the (περί), concerning (A. V., of), seems to be against the personal sense. The successive clauses, that which was from the beginning, etc., express, not the Eternal Word Himself, but something relating to or predicated concerning (περί) Him. The indefinite that which, is approximately defined by these clauses; that about the Word of Life which was from the beginning, that which appealed to sight, to hearing is, to touch. Strictly, it is true, the περί is appropriate only with we have heard, but it is used with the other clauses in a wide and loose sense (compare John 16:8). "The subject is not merely a message, but all that had been made clear through manifold experience concerning it" (Westcott).

Was (ἦν)

Not ἐγένετο came into being. See on John 1:3; see on John 8:34; see on John 8:58. It was already existing when the succession of life began.

From the beginning (ἀπ' ἀρχῆς)

The phrase occurs twice in the Gospel (John 8:44; John 15:27); nine times in the First Epistle, and twice in the Second. It is used both absolutely (John 3:8; John 2:13, John 2:14), and relatively (John 15:27; 1 John 2:24). It is here contrasted with "in the beginning" (John 1:1). The difference is that by the words "in the beginning," the writer places himself at the initial point of creation, and, looking back into eternity, describes that which was already in existence when creation began. "The Word was in the beginning." In the words "from the beginning," the writer looks back to the initial point of time, and describes what has been in existence from that point onward. Thus, "in the beginning" characterizes the absolute divine Word as He was before the foundation of the world and at the foundation of the world. "From the beginning" characterizes His development in time. Note the absence of the article both here and in John 1:1. Not the beginning as a definite, concrete fact, but as apprehended by man; that to which we look as "beginning."

Have heard - have seen (ἀκηκόαμεν - ἑωράκαμεν)

Both in the perfect tense, denoting the still abiding effects of the hearing and seeing.

With our eyes

Emphasizing the direct, personal experience in a marvelous matter.

Have looked upon (ἐθεασάμεθα)

Rev., correctly, beheld. The tense is the aorist; marking not the abiding effect of the vision upon the beholder, but the historical manifestation to special witnesses. On the difference between this verb and ἑωράκαμεν we have seen, see on John 1:14, John 1:18.

Have handled (ἐψηλάησαν)


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