Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
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;ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ Α
Chap. 1:1-4.] Introduction: the personal authority of the Writer, and objects of the Epistle. This Epistle does not begin with an address, properly so called. But there is in this sentence the latent form of an address: the ὑμῖν of ver. 3, and the ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ.… πεπληρωμένη, answering to the more usual χαίρειν, seem to shew that what follows is an Epistle, not a treatise.
The construction of these verses is difficult, and has been variously given. The simplest view, and that generally adopted (Syr., Vulg., Œc., Bullinger, Calv., Beza, Socinus, Grot., Calov., Fritzsche, Lücke, De Wette, Huther, &c.) is, that in ver. 1 a sentence is begun, which is broken off by the parenthetical ver. 2 inserted to explain ver. 1, and carried on again in ver. 3, some words being, for the sake of perspicuity, recited again from ver. 1. This construction was doubted by Winer in the earlier editions of his Grammar, but has now in the 6th edit. been adopted (§ 63, i. 1, note). The smaller clauses, ὃ ἦν, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, &c., are co-ordinate with each other, not to be arranged as subject and predicate, as Capellus, “quod erat ab initio, hoc ipsum est, quod audivimus, &c.” or, as Paulus, who begins his predicatory apodosis at καὶ αἱ χεῖρες, “that which, &c., &c., our hands also have handled.” So that there is no need to adopt Calvin’s solution of “abrupta et confusa oratio:” the sentence and construction flow smoothly and regularly.
That which was (not ‘took place,’ as Crell., Schöttg., al. ἦν is not = ἐγένετο, as their very marked distinction in John 1:1 ff. might have shewn. See this idea discussed and refuted in a note to the dissertation de Epistt. Johannearum locis difficilioribus, in the Fritzschiorum Opuscula, p. 284 ff.: and in Düsterdieck’s Comm. in loc. Œc. and Thl. say well, τὸ δὲ ἦν τοῦτο οὐ χρονικὴν παρίστησιν ὕπαρξιν, ἀλλʼ ἐνυποστάτου πράγματος οὐσίαν) from the beginning (ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς is not synonymous with ἐν ἀρχῇ, though in the depth of its meaning it is virtually the same. It sets before us the terminus a quo, but without meaning strictly to define it as such exclusively. So μέχρι, ἄχρι, and words of this kind are not unfrequently used: see Fritzsche on Matt. p. 53 f.: and cf. Acts 20:6, Romans 8:22, 2Corinthians 3:14.
The interpretation, “Since the beginning of the Gospel,” is connected with the misunderstanding of the whole passage by the Socinian interpreters, and cannot stand for a moment when we consider the context with ver. 2, and the use of ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς by St. John when applied to Christ or to supernatural beings: see reff. Wherever he uses it of the preaching of the Gospel, it is definitely marked as bearing that meaning: cf. ch. 2:7, 24, 3:11. On the meaning of this clause, see below), that which we have heard (the perfect extends the reference of the verb from the beginning, and that which the Apostle might have heard concerning Christ, e. g. from John the Baptist, down to the time when he was writing; regards his hearing as a finished and abiding possession. This verb, ἀκηκόαμεν, rules the form of the sentence: hence περί below: see more there), that which we have seen with our eyes (the same is true again. The seeing as well as the hearing is a finished and abiding possession. The clauses rise in climax: seeing is more than hearing: τοῖς ὀφθ. ἡμῶν emphasizes the fact of eye-witness), that which we looked upon (now, the tense is altered: because the Evangelist comes from speaking of the closed testimony which abode with him as a whole, to that of the senses actually exercised at the time when Christ was on earth. Notice the climax again: θεᾶσθαι, ‘intueri,’ to look upon: ὁρᾷν, merely ‘videre,’ to see: so Beza here: “quod ego his oculis vidi, idque non semel nec obiter, sed quod ego vere et penitus sum contemplatus.” See more below), and our hands handled (“attulerunt viri docti John 20:20, John 20:27: Luke 24:39. Sed nihil hujusmodi opus est. An probandum, Johannem, amatissimum et ἐπιστήθιον Christi discipulum, Dominum suum manibus contrectasse?” Fritzsche, Opusc. p. 295. These words are not for a moment to be washed out with a ‘veluti’ or ‘quasi:’ they are literal matter of fact, and form one of the strongest proofs that what is said, is said of no other than the personal incarnate Son of God) concerning the Word of life (the construction seems to be this: the περί depends strictly upon ἀκηκόαμεν, loosely upon the other clauses. The exegesis turns wholly upon the sense which we assign to the words τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς: and here there has been great diversity among Commentators. This diversity may be gathered under two heads: those who make λόγου the personal hypostatic Logos, who is ζωή, and those who make it the account, or preaching, or doctrine, concerning ζωή. Of this latter number, are for the most part, Socinus and his school (see an exception below), and some few other expositors, e. g., Grotius, Semler, Rosenmüller. Of recent writers, the most distinguished is De Wette. The former, including Œc., Thl., (“forte de verbo vitæ sic quisque accipiat quasi locutionem quandam de Christo, non ipsum corpus Christi quod manibus tractatum est. Videte quid sequatur: et ipsa vita manifestata est. Christus ergo verbum vitæ.” In Ep. Joh. Tract. i. 1, vol. iii. p. 1978), , Calvin (gives both), Beza, Luther, Schlichting (“id est de Jesu quem suo more Sermonem appellat”), Episcopius (who however strikes a middle course, “utrumque simul intelligi, Evangelium, quatenus partim ab ipso Christo revelatum est, partim de ipso Chr. J. agit”), Calov., Bengel, Wolf, Lücke, Fritzsche, Baumg.-Crus., Sander, Huther, al., have been most worthily represented among modern Commentators by O. F. Fritzsche, in his Commentatio I. de Epistolarum Johannearum locis difficilioribus, in the Fritzschiorum Opuscula, pp. 276 ff. And with his interpretation, in the main, I agree, diverging from him in some points of more or less importance. And as this περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς is the keystone of the sentence, it will be well to set out the interpretation once for all. I regard then ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς as the designation of our Lord Himself. He is the λόγος, and is the λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, this gen. being one of apposition, as He describes Himself as being the ζωή, John 11:25, John 14:6,—the ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς, 6:35, 48: the φῶς τῆς ζωῆς, 8:12: cf. also 1:4. This being so, the ὃ—, ὃ—, ὃ—, ὃ—, are all matters concerning, belonging to, regarding, Himself, the Lord of Life: all zeugmatically predicated of Him by the περί, which more properly belongs to the one verb ἀκηκόαμεν (notice that in ver. 5, where the nature of the ἀγγελία is stated, ἀκηκόαμεν alone, of all these verbs, is repeated). The ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς is His eternal præ-existence and inherent Life and Glory with the Father: this is what, in a sense slightly, though but slightly differing from the common one, may be said to have been ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς: that which was inherent indeed in Him, but by being announced to you, takes the form of being περί Him; His well-known character and attribute. The ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμ. ἡμῶν, hold a middle place between the eternal and præ-existent and the cosmical and human things περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς: the hearing of the ear embracing all the teaching of the Lord respecting ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, and the seeing of the eye taking in both His glory, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the human Body which He assumed, with all its actions and sufferings: cf. John 19:35. Then, still lingering on the combined testimony to his præ-existent glory and His human presence in the flesh, he adds, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα, which ‘contemplari,’ as he himself tells us, saw through the human into the divine, John 1:14 (so Bede: “perspexerunt, cujus divinam quoque virtutem spiritalibus oculis cernebant”), besides its earnest and diligent observation of His human life (‘mit allem Fleiss und genau beschauet und betrachtet,’ Luther. But when Œc. and Thl. say θεᾶσθαι ἐστὶ τὸ μετὰ θαύματος κ. θάμβους ὁρᾷν, it is more than is in the word or in the context). Finally, he comes down to that which though the most direct and palpable proof for human testimony, is yet the lowest, as being only material and sensuous, the (ὃ) αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν. All this concerning Him, who is ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, as recapitulated again in ver. 3 under its two great heads, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν κ. ἀκηκόαμεν, we ἀπαγγέλλομεν καὶ ὑμῖν. I would refer the reader who wishes to see the various other interpretations discussed, to the dissertation of Fritzsche before named: to Huther’s Commentary: to Brückner’s ed. of De Wette’s Handbuch, where the other view from that taken here is ably defended: and to the Commentary of Düsterdieck, who has gone at great length into the history of the exegesis. Lücke, in loc., has very fairly stated, and refuted, the Socinian view which makes ὅ to be the teaching of Jesus from the beginning of His official life onwards, and (cf. Socinus in loc.) ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, as in ch. 2:7, ὁ λόγος ὃν ἠκούσατε: rightly stating the fatal and crucial obstacle to this view to consist in αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν, which none of its advocates can in any way get over: from Œc. and Thl. who interpret it μετὰ πολλὴν ψηλάφησιν (τουτέστι συζήτησιν, adds Œc.) ἐρευνῶντες τὰς περὶ αὐτοῦ μαρτυρούσας γραφάς, to Grot., who supplies “panes multiplicatos, Lazarum,” &c., and De Wette, who explains it to mean “die Bestatigung des Gesehenen zur vollen Realitat mit demjenigen Sinne, welcher keine Tauschung zulässt,” evading the direct application of the words to the human body of Jesus). And the life (i. e. the Lord Himself who is the Life,—ἡ αὐτοζωή, ἡ πηγάζουσα τὸ ζῇν, as Matthai’s Catena: cf. John 1:4, ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν. This verse is parenthetical, taking up the last clause, and indeed the whole sense, of ver. 1, and shewing how the testimony there predicated became possible) was manifested (from being invisible, became visible: see reff.), and we have seen (it), and bear witness (of it), and declare (the verb ἀπαγγέλλομεν does not, either here or below, refer to the declaration in this present Epistle: it is the general declaration, in word and writing, of which the γράφομεν below, ver. 4, is the special portion at present employed) to you that life which is eternal (it is better thus, with Fritzsche, to supply an object for ἑωράκαμεν and μαρτυροῦμεν from ἡ ζωή above, than, with Lücke, to carry on the sense from them to τὴν ζωὴν τ. αἰώνιον below: for if this latter be done, 1) the sentence drags, by the verbal portion of its last clause being overdone; 2) the middle term between the manifestation and the announcement, viz. the sight and testimony of the announcer, would be wanting: 3) it is not the ζωὴ αἰώνιος, but the ζωή in Christ, which the Evangelist saw and of which he witnessed, and the predicative epithet ἡ αἰώνιος first comes in with the verb ἀπαγγέλλομεν), the which (ἥτις identifies not the individual only, but the species also: and thus gives a sort of causal force, ‘quippe quæ.’ The force of this here, as Düsterdieck remarks, is to refer the ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα back to the ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς: q. d. “that very before-mentioned life, which was with the Father”) was with the Father (see on John 1:1. The prep. implies not juxtaposition only, but relation: hardly however, as some here, love: at the same time it sets forth plainly the distinction of Persons: as Basil: ἵνα τὸ ἰδιάζον τῆς ὑποστάσεως παραστήσῃ … ἵνα μὴ πρόφασιν δῷ τῇ συγχύσει τῆς ὑποστάσεως), and was manifested to us (here the parenthesis ends, and the construction of ver. 1 is resumed. But on account of the distance at which that verse now stands, the leading particulars of its sense are recapitulated. Huther objects to the parenthetical view, that ὃ ἑωρ. κ. ἀκηκ. is not a full resumption, ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς not appearing in it. But it is included in the hearing, as the other sensuous clause in the seeing): that which we have heard and seen, we declare to you also (the καί of the old mss. here seems to give to the Epistle the character of being addressed to some special circle of Christian readers, beyond those addressed at the conclusion of the Gospel, ch. 20:31, or we may, with Socinus (in Huther), take the καί as indicating “vos, qui nimirum non audistis, nec vidistis, nec manibus vestris contrectastis verbum vitæ.” But the other is more likely: a supposition which is confirmed when we look further into it: see the Prolegomena. It is quite beyond all probability that the καί should have been inserted to suit καὶ ὑμεῖς which follows, as De Wette imagines: far more probable that the very occurrence of those words so near made it seem superfluous, or even that it was erased to give the Epistle a more general character, as ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, ἐν Ῥώμῃ, at the opening of those Epistles), in order that ye also (see above) may have communion with us (not,—as Socinus (“non nos solum, sed vos etiam nobiscum eam communionem cum patre et filio habeatis”), Episcopius (“τό nobiscum nihil aliud sibi vult, quam ‘sicut nos habemus’ ”), Bengel (“eandem, quam nos, qui vidimus”),—the same communion which we have, viz. that presently mentioned: but in the sense of κοιν. μετά immediately following, and in vv. 6, 7, communion with us, the Apostle and eye-witnesses (for thus I would take the ἡμεῖς throughout, and not, as Fritzsche, al., of the Evangelist himself only: “nobiscum, i. e. mecum”): τὸ γενέσθαι ἡμῶν κοινωνοί, as Schol. in Cramer’s Catena; being bound in faith and love to them, as they were to Christ. ἔχειν must not be taken, with Corn.-a-lap., for “pergere et in ea proficere et confirmari,” nor with Fritzsche, for “to obtain,” “assequi,” but in its simple meaning, to have, to possess. It may be very true, as Fr. insists, that here the Evangelist is speaking of his general work in the world, and below, ver. 4, the special object of writing this Epistle comes in: but even thus, the end proposed is simply that they might κοινωνίαν ἔχειν in the ordinary sense, of course by acquiring it; but this is not of necessity in the word ἔχειν): and indeed (see reff. for καὶ δέ. Here its use is to bring up something connected with what went before by καί, but contrasted with it by the δέ: the contrast here lying in the immeasurably more solemn and glorious character of the second κοινωνία, as compared with the first, which is the inlet to it: q. d. “and this κοινωνία μεθʼ ἡμῶν will not stop here: for we are but your admitters into &c.” See this same coupled contrast in reff.) our communion is (“pessime vulg. Grot., al. sit.” Fritz. Even Augustine, Bede, Erasm. (paraphr., not in notes), Luth., Calv., take this: against which the δέ is decisive) with the Father and with (observe the repeated μετά, distinguishing the Personality, while the very fact of the κοινωνία with Both unites the Two in the Godhead. It is not, communion with God and us, but with us, whose communion is with God, the Father and the Son) His Son Jesus Christ (the personal and the Messianic Names are united, as in John 1:17, where He is first mentioned, as here. The question has been sometimes asked, why we have not here καὶ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου? The answer to which is not, as Lücke, because the divine Personality of the Holy Ghost was not found in the apostolic mode of thought (“scheint mir nicht in der apostolischen Denkweise zu liegen”), but because, the blessed spirit being God dwelling in man, though we may be said to have τὴν κοινωνίαν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 2Corinthians 13:13,—we would hardly be said to have κοινωνίαν μετὰ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος). And these things (i. e. this whole Epistle: not, as Sander, the foregoing, nor as De Wette (altern.), and Düst., the immediately following) we write (the reading ἡμεῖς finds no favour with most of the modern critical editors, as neither does ἡμῶν below. It is objected to the former, that thus an irrelevant emphasis will be introduced into the clause. But it has not been observed, that it is in St. John’s manner thus to use ἡμεῖς with a verb, perhaps without any especial emphasis being conveyed: e. g. John 8:48, οὐ καλῶς λέγομεν ἡμεῖς …, where as here the pron. follows the verb: ib. 6:42, 9:24, 29 (1John 3:14), al. Besides which, the ἡμεῖς is by no means otiose here, whether we read ὑμῶν or ἡμῶν below. If the former, the contrast would be plain: if the latter, we must take this ἡμεῖς to be the apostolic first person—“I, as one of the eye and ear witnesses:” and the ᾑμῶν following in a wider sense, “our joy”—“the joy of us and you:”—or, it may be, our joy in accomplishing the end and bringing you into communion with us and through us with the Father and the Son: so Thl.: ἡμῶν γὰρ ὑμῖν κοινωνούντων πλεῖστον ἔχομεν τὴν χαρὰν ἡμῶν, ἣν τοῖς θερισταῖς ὁ χαίρων σπορεὺς ἐν τῇ τοῦ μισθοῦ ἀντιλήψει βραβεύσει χαιρόντων καὶ τούτων ὅτι τῶν πόνων αὐτῶν ἀπολαύουσι. Similarly Œc.: Schol. in catena, ἐπειδὰν δὲ ταύτην ἔχητε κοινωνίαν, χαρᾶς ἐσόμεθα μεστοί, ὅτι τῷ θεῷ ἐκολλήθημεν: Bede, “gaudium Doctorum sit plenum, cum multos prædicando ad sanctæ Ecclesiæ societatem, atque ad ejus per quem Ecclesia roboratur et crescit, Dei Patris et Filii ejus Jesu Christi, societatem perducunt:” referring to Philippians 2:2, πληρώσατέ μου τὴν χαράν, κ.τ.λ. As regards possibility of change of reading, it is far more probable that the not very obvious ἡμεῖς and ἡμῶν should have been altered to the very obvious ὑμῖν and ὑμῶν, so exactly correspondent to John 15:11, John 16:24), that our (see above) joy may be full (this rendering better represents the perfect than “may be filled up,” which would indicate the process rather than the completion. The joy spoken of is the whole complex of the Christian life here and hereafter; its whole sum is, joy. As Düsterdieck beautifully says, “The peace of reconciliation, the blessed consciousness of sonship, the happy growth in holiness, the bright prospect of future completion and glory,—all these are but simple details of that which in all its length and breadth is embraced by one word, Eternal Life, the real possession of which is the immediate source of our joy. We have joy, Christ’s joy, because we are blessed, because we have Life itself in Christ.” He quotes Augustine, Confess. x. 22 (32), vol. i. p. 793: “Est enim gaudium quod non datur impiis, sed eis tantum qui te gratis colunt, quorum gaudium tu ipse es. Et ipsa est beata vita gaudere ad te, de te, propter te, ipsa est et non altera.” It has been noticed before, sub initio, that this verse fills the place of the χαίρειν so common in the opening of Epistles, and gives an epistolary character to what follows).
5-2:28.] First Part of the Epistle: the message, that, if we would have communion with Him who is Light, we must walk in light, keeping His commandments. See the discussion on the division of the Epistle, in the Prolegomena.
5.] In each of these divisions, the first verse contains the ground-tone of the whole. And so here—God is Light. And (καί is not a sequence on what goes before (igitur, Beza) any further than it refers back by the words ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν to ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπαγγέλλομεν above. It serves to introduce the new subject) the message (De Wette supposes ἀγγελία to be a correction from the more difficult ἐπαγγελία. But as Düsterdieck has well argued, the great manuscript authority for ἀγγ., combined with the fact that in ch. 3:11 ἐπαγγ. is also read, and with this also, that ἐπαγγ. is a very common word in the N. T., whereas ἀγγ, occurs only in these two places, precludes De W.’s supposition. The correction from ἀγγ to ἐπαγγ. was very obvious from ch. 2:25, which also suggested transposing ἔστιν αὕτη to αὕτ. ἐστ.) which we have heard from Him (viz. from Christ), and announce to you (“quod filius annunciavit a patre, hoc apostolus acceptum a filio renunciat nobis.” Erasm. Düsterd. remarks that St. John seems every where to observe the distinction between ἀν- and ἀπ-αγγέλλειν, to announce and to declare. And to this distinction ἀγγελία here exactly corresponds (as Bengel, “quæ in ore Christi fuit ἀγγελία, eam Apostoli ἀναγγέλλουσι: nam ἀγγελίαν ab ipso acceptam reddunt et propagant”); whereas ἐπαγγελία, which means in the N. T. nothing but “promise” (neither in 2Timothy 1:1, nor in Acts 23:21 has it any other sense; see note on the latter place), seems to carry no meaning here, and has, as above, evidently crept in from ch. 2:25), is this (αὕτη predicate, as always in such sentences): that God is light (not, as Luther, “a light:” φῶς is purely predicative, indicating the essence of God: just as when it is said in ch. 4:8, ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. There it is true the predicative is purely ethical, and thus literal, when used of God who is a Spirit, whereas here, φῶς being a material, not an ethical object, some amount of figurative meaning must be conceded. But of all material objects, light is that which most easily passes into an ethical predicative without even the process, in our thought, of interpretation. It unites in itself purity and clearness and beauty and glory, as no other material object does: it is the condition of all material life and growth and joy. And the application to God of such a predicative requires no transference. He is Light, and the Fountain of light material and light ethical. In the one world, darkness is the absence of light: in the other, darkness, untruthfulness, deceit, falsehood, is the absence of God. They who are in communion with God, and walk with God, are of the light, and walk in the light), and there is not in Him any darkness at all (it is according to the manner of St. John, to strengthen an affirmation by the emphatic negation of its opposite; cf. ver. 8: ch. 2:4, 10, 27, &c. Of the ethical darkness here denied, the Schol. says, οὔτε γὰρ ἄγνοια, οὔτε πλάνη, οὔτε ἁμαρτία, οὔτε θάνατος. The οὐδεμία strengthens the negative—“no, not even one speck.” The Greek expositors ask the question respecting this message, καὶ ποῦ τοῦτο ἤκουσε;—and answer it, ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ τοῦ χριστοῦ, ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου λέγοντος. Their reply is right, but their reference to those words of our Lord is wrong. It was ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ τοῦ χριστοῦ: viz. from the whole revelation, in doings and sufferings and sayings, of Him who was the ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης of the Father. With that revelation those His words admirably and exactly coincided: but they were not the source of the message, referring as they did specially to Himself, and not directly to the Father. In His whole life on earth, and in the testimony of His Spirit, ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο αὐτόν. So that this message is the result of the whole complex of ver. 1).
6.] None can have communion with Him who walk in darkness. If we say (the hypothesis is not assumed,—“If we say, as we do:”—but is purely hypothetical, “say who will and when he will.” This ἐάν with the subj. is repeated in every verse as far as ch. 2:1. The 1st pers. plur. gives to the sayings a more general form, precluding any from escaping from the inference: at the same time that by including himself in the hypothesis, the Apostle descends to the level of his readers, thus giving to his exhortations the “come,” and not “go,” which ever wins men’s hearts the most) that we have communion with Him (see on ver. 3. “Communion with God is the very innermost essence of all true Christian life.” Huther), and walk in the darkness (περιπατῶμεν, as so often in N. T., of the whole being and moving and turning in the world: as Bengel, “actione interna et externa, quoquo nos vertimus:” see reff. τῷ σκότει, τῷ φωτί, mark off the two more distinctly than could be done without the art., as two existing separate ethical regions, the God and no-God regions of spiritual being), we lie (ψευδόμεθα is used with reference to εἴπωμεν: our assertion is a false one), and do not the truth (this clause is not a mere repetition, in a negative form, of the preceding ψευδόμεθα, as e. g. Episcopius, “hoc dicentes non facimus quod rectum est:” but is an independent proposition, answering to ἐν τῷ σκότει περιπατῶμεν, and asserting that all such walking in darkness is a not-doing of the truth. Christ is “the Truth:” and all doing the Truth is of Him, and of those who are in union with Him. So that ἡ ἀλήθεια is objective, not as ἀλήθεια alone might be, subjective, and imports “God’s truth,” καθώς ἐστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Ephesians 4:21. We may observe how closely the teaching here as to φῶς and ἀλήθεια resembles that in Ephesians 4:5. See also John 3:21)
7.] (is not merely the contrasted hypothesis to ver. 6, but together with that contains a further unfolding of the subject): but if (see on ἐάν with the subj. above) we walk in the light (this walking in the light is explained by what follows, ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτί, and by the apodosis, which gives the result of so walking,—viz. communion, &c. See Ephesians 5:8 ff. for the ethical details), as He (God) is in the light (because the Christian is made θείας κοινωνὸς φύσεως, 2Peter 1:4. ἔστιν ἐν τῷ φωτί is parallel with φῶς ἐστίν above, ver. 5. ἔστιν, as of Him who is eternal and fixed; περιπατῶμεν, as of us who are of time, moving onward: so Bede, “notanda distinctio verborum, quia Deum esse in luce dicit, nos autem in luce ambulare debere. Ambulant enim justi in luce, cum virtutum operibus servientes ad meliora proficiunt:” see note on ch. 2:6: τὸ φῶς is the element in which God dwelleth: cf. 1Timothy 6:16. Notice that this walking in the light, as He is in the light, is no mere imitation of God, as Episcopius, al., but is an identity in the essential element of our daily walk with the essential element of God’s eternal being: not imitation, but coincidence and identity of the very atmosphere of life), we have communion with one another (these words, κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετʼ ἀλλήλων, are to be taken in their plain literal sense, and refer, not to our communion with God, which is assumed in our walking in the light as He is in the light, but to our mutual communion with one another by all having the same ground-element of life, viz. the light of the Lord, Isaiah 2:5. This has been very commonly misunderstood: e. g. by Œc. (ὥστε τῆς κοινωνίας ἐχόμενοι τῆς ἀλλήλων, δῆλον δὲ ὅτι τῆς ἡμῶν τε καὶ τοῦ φωτός, so Thl. also), Schol. in Oxf. Cat., Aug. (“ut possimus societatem habere cum illo”), Beza (“interpretor cum illo mutuam: agitur enim nunc de communione non sanctorum inter se, sed Dei et sanctorum”), Calv., Socinus, al.: even De Wette interprets “Gemeinschaft unter einander, namlich mit Gott” and Bengel wavers between the two. The words are taken rightly by Bede (who however regards them as putting forward mutual love as the necessary result of walking in the light), Erasmus, Lyra, Luther, Grot., Estius, (Bengel,) Lücke, Baumg.-Crus., Neander, Sander, Düsterd., al. The words are evidently an allusion to ver. 3, and as there communion with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ is expressed, so here it lies in the background, but need not be supplied. De Wette’s remark is most true; Christian communion is then only real, when it is communion with God), and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin (in order to understand rightly this important sentence, we must fix definitely two or three points regarding its connexion and construction. First then, καί connects it, as an additional result of our walking in the light, as He is in the light, with κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετʼ ἀλλήλων: just as in ch. 3:10, end, καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ. Consequently, the proposition contained in it cannot be as Œc., Thl., Beza, Wolf, Sander, al., imagine, the ground (καὶ γάρ) of the former one, that “if we walk, &c., we have communion, &c.,” but follows as a co-ordinate result with κοιν. ἔχ. κ.τ.λ. Secondly, καθαρίζει is the present tense, and must be kept to its present meaning. This consideration precludes all such meanings as the former of the two given by Jerome (“quod scriptum est ‘et sanguis Jesu filii ejus mundat nos ab omni peccato’ tam in confessione baptismatis, quam in clementia pœnitudinis accipiendum est,” adv. Pelag. ii. 8, vol. ii. p. 750), and Bede (“sacramentum namque (καί) dominicæ passionis et præterita nobis omnia in baptismo pariter peccata laxavit (notice the past tense), et quidquid quotidiana fragilitate post baptisma commisimus ejusdem Redemtoris nostri gratia dimittit”): and as that of Calvin (“hæc igitur summa est, ut certo statuant fideles se acceptos esse Deo, quia sacrificio mortis Christi illis placatus est”), Calovius, Episcopius, al. Thirdly, the sense of καθαρίζει must be accurately ascertained and strictly kept to. In ver. 9, ἵνα καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας is plainly distinguished from ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας: distinguished, as a further process; as, in a word, sanctification, distinct from justification. This meaning then, however much it may be supposed, that justification is implied or presupposed, must be held fast here. Fourthly, the sense of τὸ αἷμα Ἰησοῦ must be also clearly defined. The expression is an objective one, not a subjective: is spoken of that which is the objective cause ab extra, of our being cleansed from all sin. And this is the material Blood of Jesus the personal Redeemer, shed on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sin of the world. So we have the same Blood said in Colossians 1:20 to be the great medium of pacification between God and the world: so in Ephesians 1:7, to be the means of our ἀπολύτρωσις: so in Hebrews 9:14, which approaches very nearly to our passage, to cleanse (καθαρίζειν as here) our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. In all these places, and similar ones, whatever application to ourselves by faith or otherwise may lie in the background, it is not that which is spoken of, but the Blood of Christ itself, as the actual objective cause, once for all, of our reconciliation and sanctification. These considerations remove much of the difficulty and possible misunderstanding of the sentence. Thus understood, it will mean, much as in the second clause of Bede’s interpretation, that this our walking in light, itself necessarily grounded in communion with the Father and the Son, will bring about, that whatever sins we may still be betrayed into by the infirmity of our nature and the malice of the devil, from them the Blood of Jesus purifies us day by day. Observe, not, the application of that Blood: for we are speaking of a state of faith and holiness, in which that blood is continually applied: the περιπατεῖν ἐν τῷ φωτί is, in fact, the application: is that, which, as a subjective conditional element, makes that Blood of Christ’s cross to be to us a means of purifying from all sin. The whole doctrine of this verse is fully and admirably set forth in Düsterdieck. The sum of what he says may be thus stated. St. John, in accord with the other Apostles, sets forth the Death and Blood of Christ in two different aspects: 1) as the one sin-offering for the world, in which sense we are justified by the application of the Blood of Christ by faith, His satisfaction being imputed to us. 2) as a victory over Sin itself, His blood being the purifying medium, whereby we gradually, being already justified, become pure and clean from all sin. And this application of Christ’s blood is made by the Spirit which dwelleth in us. The former of these asserts the imputed righteousness of Christ put on us in justification: the latter, the inherent righteousness of Christ, wrought in us gradually in sanctification. And it is of this latter that he here is treating. Cf. next verse).
8-2:2.] Unfolding of the idea of purification from sin by the blood of Christ, in connexion with our walking in light. This last is adduced in one of its plainest and simplest consequences, viz. the recognition of all that is yet darkness in us, in the confession of our sins. “Si te confessus fueris peccatorem, est in te veritas: nam ipsa veritas lux est. Nondum perfecte splenduit vita tua, quia insunt peccata: sed tamen jam illuminari cœpisti, quia inest confessio peccatorum.” Aug. The light that is in us convicts the darkness, and we, no longer loving nor desiring to sin, have, by means of the propitiatory and sanctifying blood of Christ, both full forgiveness of and sure purification from all our sins. But the true test of this state of communion with and knowledge of God is, the keeping of His commandments (2:3-6), the walking as Christ walked: and this test is concentrated and summed up in its one crucial application, viz. to the law of love (2:7-11).
8.] If we say (see on ἐάν with subj. above, ver. 6) that we have not sin (i. e. in the course and abiding of our walking in light: if we maintain that we are pure and free from all stain of sin. St. John is writing to persons whose sins have been forgiven them (ch. 2:12), and therefore necessarily the present tense ἔχομεν refers not to any previous state of sinful life before conversion, but to their now existing state and the sins to which they are liable in that state. And in thus referring, it takes up the conclusion of the last verse, in which the onward cleansing power of the sanctifying blood of Christ was asserted: q. d. this state of needing cleansing from all present sin is veritably that of all of us: and our recognition and confession of it is the very first essential of walking in light. The Socinian interpreters, Socinus, Schlichting, and following them Grotius, go in omnia alia, and understand the passage of sins before conversion, or of the general imputation of sin. And our own Hammond has been entirely led away from the sense of the passage by the unfortunate notion of Gnostics being every where aimed at in this Epistle: imagining that their profession of perfection while living impure lives was here intended. See these erroneous interpretations refuted at length in Lücke and Düsterdieck), we are deceiving ourselves (causing ourselves to err from the straight and true way), and the truth (God’s truth, objective) is not in us (has no subjective place in us. That truth respecting God’s holiness and our own sinfulness, which is the very first spark of light within, has no place in us at all. It would be mere wasting of room and of patience, at every turn to be stating and impugning the inadequate interpretations of the Socinian Commentators and of their followers, Grotius, Semler, &c. It may be sufficient here just to notice Grotius’s “non est in nobis studium veri,” and Semler’s “castior cognitio.” Even Lücke has gone wrong here; “die Selbsttäuschung verubet auf Mangel an innerem Wahrheitssinn und ist dieser Mangel selbst.”
ἑαυτούς = ἡμᾶς αὐτούς, see Winer): if we confess our sins (it is evident, from the whole sense of the passage, which has regard to our walking in light and in the truth, that no mere outward lip-confession is here meant, nor on the other hand any mere being aware within ourselves of sin (as Socinus: “confiteri significat interiorem ac profundam suorum peccatorum cognitionem”), but the union of the two, an external spoken confession springing from genuine inward contrition. As evident is it, that the confession here spoken of is not confined to confession to God, but embraces all our utterances on the subject, to one another as well as to Him; cf. James 5:16: and see more below), He (God, the Father; not, Christ, though this may at first sight seem probable from ver. 7 and ch. 2:1; nor, the Father and Christ combined, as Lange and Sander hold. God is the chief subject through the whole passage: cf. ὁ θεός, ver. 5: μετʼ αὐτοῦ, ver. 6: αὐτός, and τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, in ver. 7. It is ever God’s truth (1Corinthians 1:9, 1Corinthians 1:10, 1Corinthians 1:13; 2Corinthians 1:18; 1Thessalonians 5:24) and righteousness (John 17:25; Romans 3:25; Revelation 16:5) that are concerned in, and vindicated by, our redemption) is faithful and just (His being faithful and just does not depend on our confessing our sins: He had both these attributes before, and will ever continue to have them: but by confessing our sins, we cast ourselves on, we approach and put to the proof for ourselves, and shall find operative in our case, in the ἀφῇ and καθαρίσῃ, &c., those His attributes of faithfulness and justice.
On the former of these adjectives, πιστός, almost all Commentators agree. It is, faithful to His plighted word and promise: see reff. and citations above. Œc. and Thl. alone have given a singular and not very clear interpretation: πιστὸν δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀληθῆ εἴρηκε. πιστὸς γὰρ οὐ μόνον ἐπὶ τοῦ πεπιστευμένου, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ πιστωτικοῦ εἴρηται, ὃς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ ἀληθοῦς τρόπου ἔχει καὶ τὸ τοῖς ἄλλοις τούτου μεταδιδόναι. The latter, δίκαιος, has not been so unanimously interpreted. The idea of God’s justice seeming strange here, where the remission of and purification from sin is in question, some Commentators have endeavoured to give δίκαιος the sense of good, merciful: so Grot., Rosenm.; or, which amounts to the same, fair, favourably disposed: so Semler, Lange, Carpzov Bretschn. Lex. But Lücke has shewn, that in none of the O. T. passages which are cited to substantiate these meanings, have they really place; but in all, righteousness, justice, is the fundamental idea, and the context only makes it mean, justice in this or in that direction. See note on Matthew 1:19. The meaning then being just, we have still to decide between several different views as to what particular phase of the divine justice is meant. Some, as Calov., Wolf, al., understand that God’s justice has been satisfied in Christ, and thus the application of that satisfaction to us if we confess our sins, is an act of divine justice: is due to us in Christ. But this is plainly too much to be extracted from our verse. In Romans 3:26, where this is asserted, the reason is given, and all is fully explained: whereas here the ellipsis would be most harsh and unprecedented, and thus to fill it up would amount to an introduction into the context of an idea which is altogether foreign to it. (The notion that δίκαιος = δικαιῶν need only be mentioned to refute itself: Romans 3:26 is decisive against it.) The correct view seems to be, that δίκαιος as well as πιστός here is an attribute strictly to be kept to that which is predicated of it under the circumstances, without entering upon reasons external to the context. God is faithful, to His promise: is just, in His dealing: and both attributes operate in the forgiveness of sins to the penitent, now and hereafter; and in cleansing them from all unrighteousness. The laws of His spiritual kingdom require this: by those laws He acts in holy and infinite justice. His promises announced it, and to those promises he is faithful: but then those promises were themselves made only in accordance with his nature, who is holy, just, and true. In the background lie all the details of redemption, but they are not here in this verse: only the simple fact of God’s justice is adduced) to forgive us our sins (ἵνα here is not = ὥστε: it is not “so as to forgive, &c.,” but “that He may forgive, &c.” His doing so is in accordance with, and therefore as with Him all facts are purposed, is in pursuance of, furthers the object of, His faithfulness and justice. “So that He is faithful and just, in order that He may, &c.” See John 4:34 note: reff. here: and Winer, § 44. 8 c. With regard to the particular here mentioned, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας is the continued remission of the guilt of each committed sin, which is the special promise and just act of God under the Gospel covenant: see Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 10:18), and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (the explanation of the sense, see above. Here ἀδικίας is used, in reference to δίκαιος above, as corresponding to ἁμαρτίας in ver. 7. The divine δικαιοσύνη is revealed in God’s law: every transgression then of that law (ἁμαρτία, ἀπὸ τοῦ ἁμαρτάνειν τοῦ σκόπου: cf. Theodorus Abukara in Suicer, s. v. ἁμαρτία) is of its nature and essence an ἀδικία, an unrighteousness, as contrary to that δικαιοσύνη. Observe, the two verbs are aorists, because the purpose of the faithfulness and justice of God is to do each as one great complex act—to justify and to sanctify wholly and entirely.
10.] Not a mere repetition, but a confirmation and intensification of ver. 8. Huther well remarks, that this verse is related to ver. 9 as ver. 8 to ver. 7). If we say that we have not sinned (if we deny, that is, the fact of our commission of sins in our Christian state. The perf., so far from removing the time to that before conversion, brings it down to the present: had it been ἡμαρτήσαμεν, it might have had that signification. ἡμαρτήκαμεν answers in time to ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν: the one representing the state as existing, the other the sum of sinful acts which have gone to make it up), we make Him (God, see above) a liar (this is the climax, gradually reached through ψευδόμεθα ver. 6, and ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν ver. 8. And it is justified, by the uniform assertion of God both in the O. T. and N. T. that all men are sinners, which we thus falsify as far as in us lies), and His word in not is us (cf. John 5:38. ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ may be interpreted generally,—“that which He saith.” “Deus dixit ‘peccasti:’ id negare nefandum est. Verbum nos vere accusat, et contradicendo arcetur a corde.” Bengel. οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν, as in John l. c., has no abiding place in, within, us: is something heard by the ear, and external to us, but not finding place among the thoughts and maxims of our heart and life. God declares that to be true which we assume to be untrue. It is evident that with Œc., Grot., De Wette, to understand the O. T. by ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ is to miss the connexion, seeing that it is of the sins of Christians that St. John is treating, to whom ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ has become a far higher revelation of His will, viz. that given by Christ, and brought home to the heart by His indwelling Spirit. This final revelation of God includes the O. and N. T., and all other manifestations of His will to us: and it is this as a whole, which we reject and thrust from us, if we say at any time that we have not sinned, for its united testimony proclaims the contrary).