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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
The lust of the flesh - The word "lust" is used here in the general sense of desire, or that which is the object of desire - not in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used to denote libidinous passion. See the notes at James 1:14. The phrase, "the lust of the flesh," here denotes that which pampers the appetites, or all that is connected with the indulgence of the mere animal propensities. A large part of the world lives for little more than this. This is the lowest form of worldly indulgence; those which are immediately specified being of a higher order, though still merely worldly.
And the lust of the eyes - That which is designed merely to gratify the sight. This would include, of course, costly clothes, jewels, gorgeous furniture, splendid palaces, pleasure-grounds, etc. The object is to refer to the frivolous vanities of this world, the thing on which the eye delights to rest where there is no higher object of life. It does not, of course, mean that the eye is never to be gratified, or that we can find as much pleasure in an ugly as in a handsome object, or that it is sinful to find pleasure in beholding objects of real beauty - for the world, as formed by its Creator, is full of such things, and he could not but have intended that pleasure should enter the soul through the eye, or that the beauties which he has shed so lavishly over his works should contribute to the happiness of his creatures; but the apostle refers to this when it is the great and leading object of life - when it is sought without any connection with religion or reference to the world to come.
And the pride of life - The word here used means, properly, ostentation or boasting, and then arrogance or pride. - Robinson. It refers to whatever there is that tends to promote pride, or that is an index of pride, such as the ostentatious display of dress, equipage, furniture, etc.
Is not of the Father - Does not proceed from God, or meet with his approbation. It is not of the nature of true religion to seek these things, nor can their pursuit be reconciled with the existence of real piety in the heart. The sincere Christian has nobler ends; and he who has not any higher ends, and whose conduct and feelings can all be accounted for by a desire for these things, cannot be a true Christian.
lust of the flesh—that is, the lust which has its seat and source in our lower animal nature. Satan tried this temptation the first on Christ: Lu 4:3, "Command this stone that it be made bread." Youth is especially liable to fleshly lusts.
lust of the eyes—the avenue through which outward things of the world, riches, pomp, and beauty, inflame us. Satan tried this temptation on Christ when he showed Him the kingdoms of the world in a moment. By the lust of the eyes David (2Sa 11:2) and Achan fell (Jos 7:21). Compare David's prayer, Ps 119:37; Job's resolve, Ps 31:1; Mt 5:28. The only good of worldly riches to the possessor is the beholding them with the eyes. Compare Lu 14:18, "I must go and SEE it."
pride of life—literally, "arrogant assumption": vainglorious display. Pride was Satan's sin whereby he fell and forms the link between the two foes of man, the world (answering to "the lust of the eyes") and the devil (as "the lust of the flesh" is the third foe). Satan tried this temptation on Christ in setting Him on the temple pinnacle that, in spiritual pride and presumption, on the ground of His Father's care, He should cast Himself down. The same three foes appear in the three classes of soil on which the divine seed falls: the wayside hearers, the devil; the thorns, the world; the rocky undersoil, the flesh (Mt 13:18-23; Mr 4:3-8). The world's awful antitrinity, the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," similarly is presented in Satan's temptation of Eve: "When she saw that the tree was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise," Ge 3:6 (one manifestation of "the pride of life," the desire to know above what God has revealed, Col 2:8, the pride of unsanctified knowledge).
of—does not spring from "the Father" (used in relation to the preceding "little children," 1Jo 2:12, or "little sons"). He who is born of God alone turns to God; he who is of the world turns to the world; the sources of love to God and love to the world, are irreconcilably distinct.
the world, and the things of it, we are not to love, or under what notion we ought not to love it, viz. the world as it contains the objects and nutriment of these mentioned lusts; either more grossly sensual, called the lust of the flesh, viz. of gluttony, drunkenness, whoredom, &c. Romans 13:13,14; or that which is excited more immediately by the fancy, unto which the eye especially ministereth, the excessive appetite of much wealth, and great possessions; which the eye is therefore said to desire, and not to be satisfied with, Ecclesiastes 2:8-10, and Ecclesiastes 4:8; called therefore the lust of the eyes. And again, the ambitious affectation of the pomp and glory of the world, vain applause, the unmerited and overvalued praise and observance of other men, with power over them, affected for undue ends, or only with a self-exalting design, meant by
the pride of life, forbidden by our Saviour to his disciples, Matthew 20:25,26. This triple distribution some observe to have been before used by some of the ancient learned Jews, and imitated by certain of the more refilled heathens; whence, as being formerly known and understood, the apostle might be induced to make use of it. And these lusts are therefore argued to be inconsistent with the love of the Father, as not being of him, but
of the world; not from the Divine Spirit, but the spirit of the world.
the lust of the flesh; by which is meant, not lust in general, or concupiscence, the corruption of nature, which is the fountain of all sin, or indwelling sin, the flesh, or that corrupt principle which lusts against the Spirit; nor the various lusts of the flesh, fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, and which are many, and are also called worldly lusts; but some particular one, "a lust of the body", as the Syriac version reads; either the lust of uncleanness, which includes all unchaste desires, thoughts, words, and actions, fornication, adultery, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; and which make up a considerable part of the all that is in the world: or else intemperance in eating and drinking, gluttony and drunkenness, excess of wine, surfeitings, rioting, and revellings, and all the sensual pleasures of life, by which the carnal mind, and the lusts of it, are gratified; whereby the soul is destroyed, the body is dishonoured, and a wound, dishonour, and reproach brought on the character, not to be removed; for which reasons the world, and the things of it, are not to be loved: the next follows,
the lust of the eyes: after unlawful objects, and may design unchaste and lascivious looks, eyes full of adultery, and whereby adultery is committed; see Matthew 5:28; but then this falls in with the other, unless that be confined to intemperance; rather then this may intend a sinful curiosity of seeing vain sights, and shows, with which the eye of man is never satisfied, Ecclesiastes 1:8; and against which the psalmist prays, Psalm 119:37, or rather the sin of covetousness is here designed, the objects of which are visible things, as gold, silver, houses, lands, and possessions, with which riches the eyes of men are never satisfied, and which sin is drawn forth and cherished by the eyes; and indeed a covetous man has little more satisfaction than the beholding his substance with his eyes, and in which he takes much sinful pleasure; see Ecclesiastes 4:8; and what a poor vain empty thing is this! therefore, love not the world, since this is a principal thing in it: as is also
the pride of life; by which seems to be meant, ambition of honour, of chief places and high titles, as in the Scribes and Pharisees, Matthew 23:6, or of grand living, for the word signifies not so much life as living; living in a sumptuous, gay, luxurious, and pompous manner, in rich diet, costly apparel, having fine seats, palaces, and stately buildings, and numerous attendance; all which is but vanity and vexation of spirit; see Ecclesiastes 2:1. The Syriac and Arabic versions read, "the pride of the age"; and every age has some peculiar things in which the pride of it appears. Now neither of these
is of the Father; of God the Father, as the Ethiopic version reads; the things which are desired and lusted after are of God, but not the lust itself; God is not the author of sin, nor is it agreeable to his will:
but is of the world; of the men of it, and agreeable to their carnal minds; and is a reason why things of the world are not to be loved by the saints, who are not of it, but chosen and called out of it; and besides, all these things are mean, base, vile, and contemptible, and unworthy of their love and affection.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1 John 2:16. Confirmation of the preceding thought that love to the world is inconsistent with love to God.
ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ] Bede incorrectly explains the neuter here (as it certainly does appear elsewhere in John) as masculine: omnes mundi dilectores non habent nisi concupiscentiam; most commentators regard the expression as identical with the foregoing τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ; even Düsterdieck, who, in reference to the following ἡ ἐπιθυμία κ.τ.λ., thinks that a “change occurs from the representation of the objects of the love of the world to the subjective desire itself and its actual manifestations.” But even apart from the fact that the assumption of such a change in the form is only a makeshift, the expression of the apostle himself is opposed to this; for had he not meant by πᾶν τὸ ἐν τ. κ. something else than by τὰ ἐν τῷ κ., he would have put the neuter plural here also. Besides, it must not be overlooked why the following: ἡ ἐπιθυμία κ.τ.λ. could not be the apposition stating the sense of πᾶν τ. ἐν τ. κ. (Frommann, p. 269). Accordingly, the apostle means by this expression: all that forms the contents, i.e. the substance of the κόσμος; its inner life, which animates it (Braune); in what this consists, the following words state. ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς κ.τ.λ.] Although the ideas ἐπιθυμία and ἀλαζονεία in themselves denote a subjective disposition of man, yet several commentators think that here not this, but the objective things are meant, to which that subjective disposition is directed (Bengel, Russmeyer, Lange, Ewald), or that the otherwise subjective idea disappears into the objective (de Wette), or at least that both the subjective and the objective are to be thought of together (Lorinus, Brückner). But with the correct conception of the ideas κόσμος and πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ there is no apparent reason for such an arbitrary explanation, by which violence is done to the words of the apostle.
ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκός] The genitive is here not the genitive of the object, but, as is the case with ἐπιθυμία always in the N. T. (except 2 Peter 2:10; on Ephesians 4:22 comp. Meyer on this passage), the genitive of the subject, hence not: “the desire directed towards the flesh,” but: “the desire which the flesh, i.e. the corrupted sensual nature of man, cherishes, or which is peculiar to the flesh;” comp. Galatians 5:17 : ἡ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ.
Ebrard interprets, describing the genitive as that “of quality and reference,” for which he wrongly appeals to Ephesians 4:22, 2 Peter 2:10 : “the desire which occurs in the sphere of the flesh;” the apostle scarcely conceived the idea so indefinitely. The idea may be taken in a broader or in a narrower sense; the first view in Lücke (“fleshly, sensuous desire in general, in contrast to ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΙ ΠΕΡΙΠΑΤΕῖΝ and ἌΓΕΣΘΑΙ; comp. Ephesians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:11”), de Wette, Neander, Düsterdieck; in the second, the desire of sensuality and drunkenness is specially understood; Augustine: desiderium earum rerum, quae pertinent ad carnem, sicut cibus et concubitus et caetera hujusmodi; similarly Grotius, Baumgarten-Crusius, Sander, Besser, etc.; Brückner limits the idea to “the lust of the flesh in the narrower sense;” Gerlach specially to every sort of pursuit of enjoyment; and Ebrard to “sexual enjoyments.” The right explanation can be found only on the consideration of the following expression.
καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν] i.e. “the desire that is inherent in the eyes, that is peculiar to them;” the expression is explained in this way, that the desire of seeing something is attributed to the sense of sight itself. This idea also is understood in a broader and in a narrower sense. As Lücke calls the eyes “as it were the principal gates of sensual desire for the external world,” he identifies this idea with the preceding one; de Wette does the same, interpreting it (in objective aspect): “what the eyes see, and by what sensual desire is excited.” The connection by καί, however, which is further followed by a second καί, shows that the two ideas are to be definitely distinguished. Accordingly, most commentators justly regard ἐπιθ. τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν as the description of a special sort of ἐπιθυμία; thus (against de Wette) Brückner in subjective and objective view: “the lust of the eyes, and, at the same time, that in which, as sensuous and earthly, the eyes delight.” Two different interpretations are found with a more exact definition. Very many commentators, as Luther, Socinus, Grotius, Hornejus, Estius, Lorinus, Wolf, Clarius, Paulus, Semler, Baumgarten-Crusius, Gerlach, etc., hold, though with some modifications, the expression to be substantially synonymous with πλεονεξία, avaritia. On behalf of this interpretation, appeal is made principally to several passages of the O. T., and especially to Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 5:10, Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 27:20; but erroneously, for even though the eye of the covetous or avaricious man looks with pleasure on his treasures, and eagerly looks out for new ones, still the possession or acquirement of wealth is to him the chief thing; the striving for it, however, is not expressed by the phrase: ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν. Still less justifiable is the explanation of Ebrard, who partly agrees with those commentators, but regards the idea of “avarice” as too narrow; and, with an appeal to passages such as Psalm 17:11; Psalm 54:6; Psalm 91:8; Psalm 92:12 Proverbs 6:17, etc., maintains that by ἡ ἐπιθ. τ. ὀφθ. is meant “the whole sphere of the desires of selfishness, envy, and avarice, of hatred and revenge (!).” Other commentators, on the contrary, retain the reference to the pleasure of mere sight, but limit this too much to dramatic performances, etc.; thus Augustine: omnis curiositas in spectaculis, in theatris; similarly Neander and others. Such a limitation, however, is arbitrary; accordingly, others refer the expression to other objects of sight, thus Calvin: tam libidinosos conspectus comprehendit, quam vanitatem, quae in pompis et inani splendore vagatur; but it is more correct to take the reference to these things in a quite general way, and, with Spener, to interpret: “all sinful desire by which we seek delight in the seeing itself” (so also Braune); besides, it is to be observed that ἡ ἐπιθυμία τ. ὀφθ. is not the desire for wealth, etc., which is excited by the sight (Rickli and others), but the desire of seeing unseemly things, and the sinful pleasure which the sight of them affords. Thus, this idea is quite exclusive of the ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκός; if the latter is taken quite generally, then the lust of the eyes is a particular species of it, which the apostle specially mentions in order to meet the idea that the desire of seeing anything can have nothing sinful in it. But, having regard to the simple juxtaposition of the ideas by καί, it is more correct to suppose that John conceived the ἐπιθ. τῆς σαρκός not in that general sense, but in the particular sense of the “lust for wealth and immoderate enjoyment,” so that the two ideas stand to one another in the relation not of subordination, but of co-ordination, both being subordinate to the general idea of ἐπιθυμία.
καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου] ἀλαζονεία is usually translated by superbia, ambitio (Socinus: ambitio in honoribus quaerendis ac sectandis), and by similar words, and thereby is understood ambition, together with the pride and haughty contempt for others which are frequently associated with it; thus Cyril interprets (Homil. Pasch. xxvii.): ἀλαζονείαν τ. β. φησὶ τῶν ἀξιωμάτων ὑπεροχὴν καὶ τὸ ἠρμένον ὕψος κατά γε τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν. Thereby, however, its peculiar meaning is not assigned to the word. In the N. T. ἀλαζονεία only appears in Jam 4:16 (in the plural); the adjective ἀλάζων in Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2, in close connection with ὑπερήφανος, from which, however, it does not follow that the idea of ambition, thirst for glory, etc., is contained in it, but only that the ἀλαζ. is related to ὑπερηφανία; in James is meant thereby—according to the context—the haughtiness which overlooks the uncertainty of earthly happiness, and ostentatiously relies on its permanence. In the same sense = ostentatious pride in the possession, whether real or pretended, of earthly good things, such as happiness, power, knowledge, etc., the word appears also in the Apocrypha of the O. T.; comp. Wis 5:8; Wis 17:7; 2Ma 9:8; 2Ma 15:6. In classical Greek ἀλαζονεία has almost always the collateral meaning of the unreality of proud ostentation (Theophr. Charact. 23: προσποίησίς τις ἀγαθῶν οὐκ ὄντων πρὸς δόξαν; Plato, Phaedr.: ἕξις προσποιητικὴ ἀγαθοῦ ἢ ἀγαθῶν τῶν μὴ ὑπαρχόντων; antithesis of εἰρωνεία), which has obtained in Hellenistic usage only in so far that the idea here also always refers to something by its very nature worthless and trifling, and in this way certainly includes a delusion or unreality. This meaning is to be retained here also, as is rightly done by Lücke, Sander, Besser, Braune; for examples in the Scriptures, comp. 1 Chronicles 22:1 ff.; Ecclesiastes 2:1 ff.; Ezekiel 28:16-17; Daniel 4:27; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:7, etc. The genitive τοῦ βίου serves for the more particular definition of the idea; ΒΊΟς signifies in the N. T. either “temporal life” (1 Timothy 2:2; 1 Peter 4:3, Rec.), or more commonly “the support of life, the means” (chap. 1 John 3:17; Mark 12:44; Luke 8:43; Luke 15:12; Luke 15:30; Luke 21:4); it never has the meaning “conduct of life” (Ebrard). Following polyb. Hist. vi. 576: ἡ περὶ τοὺς βίους ἀλαζονεία καὶ πολυτέλεια, it is appropriate to take ΒΊΟς here in the second meaning, and the genitive as objective genitive (so Lücke); as, however, ΣΑΡΚΌς and ὈΦΘΑΛΜῶΝ are subjective genitives, it is much more correct to take ΒΊΟΥ also as subjective genitive, and accordingly to interpret: “the ἈΛΑΖΟΝΕΊΑ peculiar to the ΒΊΟς;” in the expression ἩΔΟΝΑῚ ΤΟῦ ΒΊΟΥ, Luke 8:14, ΤΟῦ ΒΊΟΥ may also be the objective genitive, thus: “the pleasures which refer to the ΒΊΟς, the temporal good;” but more probably it is the subjective genitive here also, especially if it be connected with the preceding ideas (see Meyer on this passage), thus: “the pleasures peculiar to the present life.”
 According to Ebrard, πᾶν τὸ ἐν τ. κ. is a resumption of τὰ ἐν τ. κ.; as, however, he understands by it various kinds of conduct, etc., that idea is rightly interpreted by him. Myrberg agrees with the interpretation given above.
 It is arbitrary for Ebrard to say: ἐπιθυμία is here—as in John 8:44; Romans 7:8; Galatians 5:16, etc.—“that which one lusts after,” which indeed he again cancels by translating the word by “lust.”
 Even Bengel takes the expression (while, however, he understands it of the objective things) in a narrower sense: ea quibus pascuntur sensus, qui appellantur truitivi: gustus et tactus.
 This explanation results for Ebrard from the fact that he takes σάρξ here = σῶμα, and then describes the idea “sensual” as identical with “sexual” (!).1 John 2:16. ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκός, not object. gen. (Aug.: “desiderium earum rerum quæ pertinent ad carnem, sicut cibus et concubitus, et cætera hujusmodi,”) but subject.: “the lust which the flesh feels, which resides in the flesh”. Cf. ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν. ἀλαζονία, vain pretension, claiming what one really has not. Def. Plat.: ἕξις προσποιητικὴ ἀγαθοῦ ἤ ἀγαθῶν τῶν μὴ ὑπαρχόντωυ. Suid.: ἀλαζόνας τοὺς ψεύστας ἐκάλουν, ἐπεὶ λέγειν ἐπαγγέλλονται περὶ ὧν μὴ ἴσασιν. Theophr. Char. vi.: προσδοκία τις ἀγαθῶν οὐκ ὄντων. ζωή, the vital principle (vita qua vivimus), (βίος, the outward life (vita quam vivimus) or livelihood (victus). There is here a summary of all possible sins, exemplified in the temptations of Eve (Genesis 3:1-6) and our Lord (Matthew 4:1-11). Cf. Aug.; Lightfoot, Hor. Heb., on Matthew 4:1. (1) “The lust of the flesh”: cf. “The tree was good for food”; “Command that these stones become loaves”. (2) “The lust of the eyes”: cf. “It was a delight to the eyes”; “Cast thyself down”—a spectacular display. (3) “The braggart boast of life”: cf. “The tree was to be desired to make one wise”: “All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them”.16. Proof of the preceding statement by shewing the fundamental opposition in detail.
all that is in the world] Neuter singular: in 1 John 2:15 we had the neuter plural. The material contents of the universe cannot be meant. To say that these did not originate from God would be to contradict the Apostle himself (John 1:3; John 1:10) and to affirm those Gnostic doctrines against which he is contending. The Gnostics, believing everything material to be radically evil, maintained that the universe was created, not by God, but by the evil one, or at least by an inferior deity. By ‘all that is in the world’ is meant the spirit which animates it, its tendencies and tone. These, which are utterly opposed to God, did not originate in Him, but in the free and rebellious wills of His creatures, seduced by ‘the ruler of this world’.
the lust of the flesh] This does not mean the lust for the flesh, any more than ‘the lust of the eyes’ means the lust for the eyes. In both cases the genitive is not objective but subjective, as is generally the case with genitives after ‘lust’ (ἐπιθυμία) in N. T. Comp. Romans 1:24, Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 2:3. The meaning is the lusts which have their seats in the flesh and in the eyes respectively.
“Tell me where is fancy bred.
It is engendered in the eyes.”
Merchant of Venice, III. ii.
The former, therefore, will mean the desire for unlawful pleasures of sense; for enjoyments which are sinful either in themselves or as being excessive.
Note that S. John does not say ‘the lust of the body.’ ‘The body’ in N.T. is perhaps never used to denote the innately corrupt portion of man’s nature: for that the common term is ‘the flesh.’ ‘The body’ is that neutral portion which may become either good or bad. It may be sanctified as the abode and instrument of the Spirit, or degraded under the tyranny of the flesh.
the lust of the eyes] The desire of seeing unlawful sights for the sake of the sinful pleasure to be derived from the sight; idle and prurient curiosity. Familiar as S. John’s readers must have been with the foul and cruel exhibitions of the circus and amphitheatre, this statement would at once meet with their assent. Tertullian, though he does not quote this passage in his treatise De Spectaculis, is full of its spirit: “The source from which all circus games are taken pollutes them … What is tainted taints us” (VII., VIII.). Similarly S. Augustine on this passage; “This it is that works in spectacles, in theatres, in sacraments of the devil, in magical arts, in witchcraft; none other than curiosity.” See also Confessions VI. vii., viii., X. xxxv. 55.
the pride of life] Or, as R. V., the vainglory of life. Latin writers vary much in their renderings: superbia vitae; ambilio saeculi; jactantia hujus vitae; jactantia vitae humanae. The word (ἀλαζονεία) occurs elsewhere only James 4:16, and there in the plural; where A. V. has ‘boastings’ and R. V. ‘vauntings.’ The cognate adjective (ἀλάζων) occurs Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2, where A. V. has ‘boasters’ and R. V. ‘boastful’. Pretentious ostentation, as of a wandering mountebank, is the radical signification of the word. In classical Greek the pretentiousness is the predominant notion; in Hellenistic Greek, the ostentation. Compare the account of this vice in Aristotle (Nic. Eth. IV. vii.) with Wis 5:8, 2Ma 9:8; 2Ma 15:6. Ostentatious pride in the things which one possesses is the signification of the term here; ‘life’ meaning ‘means of life, goods, possessions’. The word for ‘life’ (βίος) is altogether different from that used in 1 John 1:1-2 and elsewhere in the Epistle (ζωή). This word (βίος) occurs again 1 John 3:17, and elsewhere in N.T. only 8 times, chiefly in S. Luke. The other word occurs 13 times in this Epistle, and elsewhere in N. T. over 100 times. This is what we might expect. The word used here means (1) period of human life, as 1 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:4; (2) means of life, as here, 1 John 3:17, Mark 12:44; Luke 8:14; Luke 8:43; Luke 15:12; Luke 15:30; Luke 21:4 (in 1 Peter 4:3 the word is not genuine). With the duration of mortal life and the means of prolonging it the Gospel has comparatively little to do. It is concerned rather with that spiritual life which is not measured by time (1 John 1:2), and which is independent of material wealth and food. For this the other word (ζωή) is invariably used. By ‘the vainglory of life’ then is meant ostentatious pride in the possession of worldly resources.
These three evil elements or tendencies ‘in the world’ are co-ordinate: no one of them includes the other two. The first two are wrongful desires of what is not possessed; the third is a wrongful behaviour with regard to what is possessed. The first two may be the vices of a solitary; the third requires society. We can have sinful desires when we are alone, but we cannot be ostentatious without company. See Appendix A.
is not of the Father] Does not derive its origin from (ἐκ) Him, and therefore has no natural likeness to Him or connexion with Him. S. John says ‘the Father’ rather than ‘God’ to emphasize the idea of parentage. Its origin is from the world and its ruler, the devil. Comp. ‘Ye are of (ἐκ) your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will to do’ (John 8:44). The phrase ‘to be of’ is highly characteristic of S. John.
A. The Three Evil Tendencies in the World
The three forms of evil ‘in the world’ mentioned in 1 John 2:16 have been taken as a summary of sin, if not in all its aspects, at least in its chief aspects. ‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life’ have seemed from very early times to form a synopsis of the various modes of temptation and sin. And certainly they cover so wide a field that we cannot well suppose that they are mere examples of evil more or less fortuitously mentioned. They appear to have been carefully chosen on account of their typical nature and wide comprehensiveness.
There is, however, a wide difference between the views stated at the beginning and end of the preceding paragraph. It is one thing to say that we have here a very comprehensive statement of three typical forms of evil; quite another to say that the statement is a summary of all the various kinds of temptation and sin.
To begin with, we must bear in mind what seems to be S. John’s purpose in this statement. He is not giving us an account of the different ways in which Christians are tempted, or (what is much the same) the different sins into which they may fall. Rather, he is stating the principal forms of evil which are exhibited ‘in the world,’ i.e. in those who are not Christians. He is insisting upon the evil origin of these desires and tendencies, and of the world in which they exist, in order that his readers may know that the world and its ways have no claim on their affections. All that is of God, and especially each child of God, has a claim on the love of every believer. All that is not of God has no such claim.
It is difficult to maintain, without making some of the three heads unnaturally elastic, that all kinds of sin, or even all of the principal kinds of sin, are included in the list. Under which of the three heads are we to place unbelief, heresy, blasphemy, or persistent impenitence? Injustice in many of its forms, and especially in the most extreme form of all—murder, cannot without some violence be brought within the sweep of these three classes of evil.
Two positions, therefore, may be insisted upon with regard to this classification.
1. It applies to forms of evil which prevail in the non-Christian world rather than to forms of temptation which beset Christians.
2. It is very comprehensive, but it is not exhaustive.
It seems well, however, to quote a powerful statement of what may be said on the other side. The italics are ours, to mark where there seems to be over-statement. “I think these distinctions, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, prove themselves to be very accurate and very complete distinctions in practice, though an ordinary philosopher may perhaps adopt some other classification of those tendencies which connect us with the world and give it a dominion over us. To the lust of the flesh may be referred the crimes and miseries which have been produced by gluttony, drunkenness, and the irregular intercourse of the sexes; an appalling catalogue, certainly, which no mortal eye could dare to gaze upon. To the lust of the eye may be referred all worship of visible things, with the divisions, persecutions, hatreds, superstitions, which this worship has produced in different countries and ages. To the pride or boasting of life,—where you are not to understand by life, for the Greek words are entirely different, either natural or spiritual life, such as the Apostle spoke of in the first chapter of the Epistle, but all that belongs to the outside of existence, houses, lands, whatever exalts a man above his fellow,—to this head we must refer the oppressor’s wrongs, and that contumely which Hamlet reckons among the things which are harder to bear even than the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ In these three divisions I suspect all the mischiefs which have befallen our race may be reckoned, and each of us is taught by the Apostle, and may know by experience that the seeds of the evils so enumerated are in himself” (Maurice).
Do we not feel in reading this that S. John’s words have been somewhat strained in order to make them cover the whole ground? One sin produces so many others in its train, and these again so many more, that there will not be much difficulty in making the classification exhaustive, if under each head we are to include all the crimes and miseries, divisions and hatreds, which that particular form of evil has produced.
Some of the parallels and contrasts which have from early times been made to the Apostle’s classification are striking, even when somewhat fanciful. Others are both fanciful and unreal.
The three forms of evil noticed by S. John in this passage are only partially parallel to those which are commonly represented under the three heads of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Strictly speaking those particular forms of spiritual evil which would come under the head of the devil, as distinct from the world and the flesh, are not included in the Apostle’s enumeration at all. ‘The vainglory of life’ would come under the head of the world; ‘the lust of the flesh’ of course under that of ‘the flesh;’ while ‘the lust of the eyes’ would belong partly to the one and partly to the other.
There is more reality in the parallel drawn between S. John’s classification and the three elements in the temptation by which Eve was overcome by the evil one, and again the three temptations in which Christ overcame the evil one. ‘When the woman saw that the tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (the vainglory of life), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat’ (Genesis 3:6). Similarly, the temptations (1) to work a miracle in order to satisfy the cravings of the flesh, (2) to submit to Satan in order to win possession of all that the eye could see, (3) to tempt God in order to win the glory of a miraculous preservation (Luke 4:1-12).
Again, there is point in the contrast drawn between these three forms of evil ‘in the world’ and the three great virtues which have been the peculiar creation of the Gospel (Liddon Bampton Lectures VIII. iii. B), purity, charity, and humility, with the three corresponding ‘counsels of perfection,’ chastity, poverty, and obedience.
But in all these cases, whether of parallel or contrast, it will probably be felt that the correspondence is not perfect throughout, and that the comparison, though striking, is not quite satisfying, because not quite exact.
It is surely both fanciful and misleading to see in this trinity of evil any contrast to the three Divine Persons in the Godhead. Is there any sense in which we can say with truth that a lust, whether of the flesh or of the eyes, is more opposed to the attributes of the Father than to the attributes of the Son? Forced analogies in any sphere are productive of fallacies; in the sphere of religious truth they may easily become profane.1 John 2:16. Πᾶν—ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς, καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν, καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου, all—the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life) The world contains all these, and nothing besides them. The lust of the flesh means those things, on which the senses of enjoyment, as they are termed, viz. the taste and touch, feed. The lust of the eyes means those things, by which the senses of investigation, the eye or sight, hearing and smelling, are occupied. Ἀλαζονεία is arrogant pomp, when any one assumes too much to himself either in words or in actions. See Raphel. It is also comprised under the word, lust, in the next verse: and therefore arrogance of life, is that which leads forth lust abroad, and diffuses it more largely into the world, so that a man wishes to be as great as possible in food, in dress, in plate, in furniture, in buildings, in estates, in servants, in his retinue, in his equipage, in his offices, etc. Comp. Revelation 18:12-13. Chrysostom, in the passage referred to above, speaks of τὸν τύφον τὸν βιωτικὸν, the vanity of life, and τὴν φαντασίαν τοῦ βίου, the display of life: where he relates a youthful example of such insolence overcome by sacred love. Either kind of lust is the little fire (spark); arrogance is the conflagration. Even those who do not love arrogance of life, may possibly pursue the lust of the eyes; and they who have overpowered this, yet frequently retain the lust of the flesh: for this prevails in the greatest degree, and to the widest extent, among the poor, the middle classes, and the powerful; even among those who appear to exercise self-denial: and again, unless it is overcome, a man easily advances from it to the lust of the eyes, where he has the means [materials for it]; and from this to pride of life, where he has the opportunity [resources]. The second is included in the third, and the first in the second. The three cardinal vices, pleasure, avarice, and pride, do not coincide with these three; but yet they are comprised in them. Comp. Luke 8:14; Deuteronomy 17:16-17; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6; Matthew 4:9. And youth is especially commanded to avoid these three, comp. 2 Timothy 2:22, since it might abuse its great vigour. Ecclesiastes 12.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.
Not all things severally, but all that is in the world collectively, regarded as a unit.
The lust (ἡ ἐπιθυμία)
See on Mark 4:19.
Of the flesh
Sensual appetite. The desire which resides in the flesh, not the desire for the flesh. For this subjective usage of the genitive with lust, see John 8:44; Romans 1:24; Revelation 18:14. Compare 1 Peter 2:11; Titus 2:12. The lust of the flesh involves the appropriation of the desired object. On the flesh, see on John 1:14.
The lust of the eyes
This is included in the lust of the flesh, as a specific manifestation. All merely sensual desires belong to the economy which "is not of the Father." The desire of the eyes does not involve appropriation. It is satisfied with contemplating. It represents a higher type of desire than the desire of the flesh, in that it seeks mental pleasure where the other seeks physical gratification. There is thus a significant hint in this passage that even high artistic gratification may have no fellowship with God.
The pride of life (ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου)
Rev., vainglory. The word occurs only here and James 4:16, on which see note. It means, originally, empty, braggart talk or display; swagger; and thence an insolent and vain assurance in one's own resources, or in the stability of earthly things, which issues in a contempt of divine laws. The vainglory of life is the vainglory which belongs to the present life. On βίος life, as distinguished from ζωη. life, see on John 1:4.
Of the Father (ἐκ τοῦ πατρός)
Do not spring forth from the Father. On the expression εἶναι ἐκ to be of, see on John 1:46. "He, therefore, who is always occupied with the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly striving after them, must have all his opinions mortal, and, as far as man can be, must be all of him mortal, because he has cherished his mortal part. But he who has been earnest in the love of knowledge and true wisdom, and has been trained to think that these are the immortal and divine things of a man, if he attain truth, must of necessity, as far as human nature is capable of attaining immortality, be all immortal, for he is ever attending on the divine power, and having the divinity within him in perfect order, he has a life perfect and divine" (Plato, "Timsaeus," 90).
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