Expositor's Greek Testament
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;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 John 1:1. ὅ, i.e. the Logos and the Eternal Life which He manifested. Cf. 1 John 1:4 : πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον with note. ἦν, “verbum æternitatis significativum non habentis initium” (Clem. Alex.). It “was” ere it “was manifested”. ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, בְּרֵאשִׁית (Genesis 1:1). The Logos already was when time began. “The design of the Apostle is to remove the idea of novelty which could lessen the dignity of the Gospel” (Calvin). Cf. Athan., Synops. Script. Sacr.: θεολογῶν δὲ ἐξηγεῖται μὴ νεώτερον εἶναι τὸ καθʼ ἡμᾶς μυστήριον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ἀρχῆς μὲν ἀεὶ τυγχάνειν αὐτὸ νῦν δὲ πεφανερῶσθαι ἐν τῷ Κυρίῳ. ἀκηκόαμεν, “we have heard”; either the editorial “we” (cf. Romans 1:5; Colossians 4:3); or, with Lightfoot; St. John and the elders of Ephesus who had certified the authorship and authenticity of the Gospel (John 21:24); or “I and the rest of the Apostles”—not hearsay but the testimony of eye-witnesses. ἐθεασάμεθα, “we beheld”—a spectacle which broke on our astonished vision. This seems to be the force of the transition from perfect to aorist, though it may be simply an instance of the decay of the distinction between perfect and aorist (see Moulton’s Gram, of N.T. Gk., i. pp. 142 f.). ἐψηλάφησαν: the word is used of the fumbling of a blind man in Genesis 27:12 LXX μή ποτε ψηλαφήσῃ με ὁ πατὴρ. περὶ, in Betreff des Wortes des Lebens (Holtzmann); i.e. “We did not grasp all the wonder but only its skirts”. “Vom Worte des Lebens will er verkündigen, denn ihn selbst verkün-digen zu können, dazu fühlte er sich nicht in Stande” (Rothe). τοῦ Λόγου τῆς ζωῆς, “the Word who gives life,” “des Wortes, ohne welches es kein Leben gibt” (Holtzmann). Calvin: “Genitivus loco epitheti pro Vivifico”. Rothe’s “das Wort vom Leben (the word concerning life)” is Pauline (cf. Php 2:16) but not Johannine.
(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;)1 John 1:2. A parenthesis reiterating the assurance of the reality of the manifestation. The Apostle heaps assurance upon assurance with elaborate emphasis, and the cumbrousness of his language should not be removed by devices of construction or punctuation, making 1 John 1:1 a complete sentence: (1) “That which was from the beginning (is) that which we have heard, etc.”; (2) “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen … beheld, our hands also handled”. Cf. Tert. in crit. n. μαρτυροῦμεν, according to the Lord’s parting charge (cf. John 15:27; Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). ἡ μαρτυρία Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 19:10) was the apostolic ἀπαγγελία. ἀπαγγέλλομεν, κ.τ.λ.: “Whence we gather that Christ cannot be preached to us without the Heavenly Kingdom being opened to us, so that, being wakened from death, we may live the life of God” (Calvin). Observe the note of wonder in the Apostle’s language. Speech fails him. He labours for expression, adding definition to definition.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.1 John 1:3. ὃ ἐωρ. καὶ ἀκ., not merely a resumption but a reiteration of the protasis. καὶ ὑμεῖς, “ye also” who have not seen Jesus. κοινωνίαν, not merely knowledge through hearsay of what the Apostles had known as eye-witnesses, but personal and direct communion with the living Lord. This St. John proceeds to make plain. The phrase καὶ … δὲ, et … vero, atque etiam, introduces an important addition or explanation (cf. John 6:51; John 8:16-17; John 15:27; Acts 22:29; Hebrews 9:21; 2 Peter 1:5). “Christ walks no longer in the flesh among us, but He appears still continually to the world of men and reveals Himself to those who love Him. Through faith a real personal contact with the Christ now glorified in the Spirit is possible” (Rothe). There is a gracious constraint on all who know this blessed fellowship to bring others into it. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16. Bunyan, preface to The Jerusalem-Sinner Saved: “I have been vile myself, but have obtained mercy, and I would have my companions in sin partake of mercy too, and therefore I have writ this little book”.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.1 John 1:4. ἡμεῖς, clearly the editorial plural. The reading ὑμῶν seems at the first glance more attractive than ἡμῶν as evincing a generous solicitude on the part of the Apostle for the highest good of his readers, viz., the fulfilment of their joy. Rothe: “Wer es weis, dass das uranfängliche Leben erschienen ist und er mit demselben und dadurch mit dem Vater Gemeinschaft haben kann, dessen Herz muss hoch schlagen”. In truth, however, ἡμῶν evinces a still more generous solicitude—the very spirit of Jesus. As He could not be happy in Heaven without us, so the Apostle’s joy was incomplete unless his readers shared it. Cf. Samuel Rutherford:—
“Oh! if one soul from Anwoth
Meet me at God’s right hand,
My heaven will be two heavens
In Immanuel’s land.”
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.1 John 1:5-10. The Message of the Incarnation and the Duty which it brings. “And this is the message which we have heard from Him and are announcing to you, that God is light, and darkness—in Him there is none. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and be walking in the darkness, we lie and are not doing the Truth; but if we be walking in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from every sin. If we say that we have not sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the Truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, faithful is He and righteous to forgive us the sins and cleanse us from every unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we are making Him a liar and His Word is not in us.”
1 John 1:5. ἀγγελία in N.T. only here and 1 John 3:2. ἐπαγγελία could only mean “promise” (cf. 1 John 2:25). ἀπαγγέλλειν and ἀναγγέλλειν both mean “announce,” the former with reference to the source of the message (ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ) and the latter to its destination. “Quod Filius annunciavit, renunciat apostolus” (Haupt). οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία: the double negative makes a stronger negative (cf. Luke 23:53). The manifestation of God in Christ was to those who beheld it a splendid glory, the breaking of a great light into the darkness of a sinful and sorrowful world. Cf. Matthew 4:14-16. Light means warmth, health, sight, in a word “life” (cf. 1 John 1:2).
Light is given that we may “walk in it” and enjoy its blessings. It is thus that the Gospel attains its end and fulfils its purpose in us. The Apostle now proceeds to warn his readers against two heresies which ignored this condition of heavenly fellowship.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:1 John 1:6-7. The heresy of Antinomianism, represented by the Nicolaitans (cf. Introd. p. 156). ἐὰν εἴπωμεν, a gentle and charitable hypothesis. He does not charge his readers with actually holding this pernicious doctrine, and he includes himself (“we,” not “ye”). περιπατεῖν, Heb. הָלַךְ, of the whole course of life. The Greek phrase is ἀναστρέφεσθαι (conversari). God is light and sin darkness, peccata tenebræ sunt (Aug.), and it is impossible to be living in sin or compromising with it and at the same time be enjoying fellowship with God. ψευδόμεθα: we may believe the lie, being self-deceived (1 John 1:8); for disobedience to the Truth blinds us to it. Knowledge comes by doing (cf. John 7:17). τὴν ἀλήθειαν, see note on 1 John 1:8. “Walking in the light” has two blessed results: (1) “fellowship with one another,” which may mean either fellowship with God—He with us and we with Him (Aug., Calv.), or communion of saints—our fellow-believers with us and we with them. In fact the one idea implies the other. They are inseparable. Communion with our brethren is the consequence and evidence of communion with God. Cf. 1 John 4:20. (2) “Cleansing in the blood of Jesus.” τὸ αἷμα Ἰησοῦ, God’s Infinite Sacrifice for the sin of the world—a N.T. phrase of peculiar poignancy and fragrance. Cf. Ignat. ad Rom. vii.: τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγάπη ἄφθαρτος. When we walk in the light, that demonstration of the length to which God has gone in sacrifice for our sakes, is ever before us, and the amazing spectacle subdues our hearts, takes possession of them, and drives out every evil affection. cf. Catherine of Siena: “The blood and tears of the Divine Son are able to cleanse us from head to foot”. πάσης ἁμαρτίας, “every sin,’ i.e. every outbreak of the sinful principle; not “all sin” (πάσης τῆς ἁμαρτίας). cf. Romans 3:19 : πᾶν στόμα … πᾶς ὁ κόσμος.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.1 John 1:8-10. The heresy of Perfectionism. Some might not say, with the Antinomians, that they were absolved from the obligation of the moral law, but they maintained that they were done with sin, had no more sinful propensities, committed no more sinful acts. In opposition hereto the Apostle asserts two facts: (1) Inherent corruption. Distinguish ἁμαρτίαν ἔχειν (“to have sin”) and ἁμαρτάνειν (“to sin”), corresponding to the sinful principle and its manifestation in specific acts. Our natures are poisoned, the taint is in our blood. Grace is the medicine, but recovery is a protracted process. It is begun the moment we submit ourselves to Christ, but all our lives we continue under treatment. πλανῶμεν, “lead astray” (cf. Matthew 18:12). ἡ ἀλήθεια, in Johannine phraseology not simply “der Wahrheitssinn, die Wahrhaftigkeit der Selbstprüfung und der Selbsterkenntniss” (Rothe), but the revelation of “the True God” (ver. 20; John 17:3), which came “through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), Himself “the Truth” (John 14:6). Nearly equivalent to ὁ λόγος (1 John 1:10). The Truth is a splendid ideal, never realised here, else it would cease to be an ideal; always as we pursue it displaying a fuller glory, And thus the nearer we approach it the further off it seems; when we walk in the light we see faults which were hidden in the darkness. Self-abasement is a characteristic of the saints. When Juan de Avila (A.D. 1500–69) was dying the rector of his college approached him and said: “What joy it must be to you to think of meeting the Saviour!” “Ah!” said the saint, “rather do I tremble at the thought of my sins.” (2) The frequent falls of the believer. We all “have sinned (ἡμαρτήκαμεν),” i.e., committed acts of sin (ἁμαρτίας) manifesting the strength and activity of the sinful principle (ἡ ἁμαρτία) in our souls. This, however, is no reason for despair. There is a remedy—forgiveness and cleansing in the blood of Jesus; and there is a way of obtaining it—confession. πιστός, i.e., to His promise (cf. Hebrews 10:23). δίκαιος: He would be unrighteous if He broke His promise ratified by the blood of Jesus. Peace is not got by denying our sinfulness and our sins, but by frankly confessing them and availing ourselves, continually and repeatedly, of the gracious remedy. “Woe to that soul which presumes to think that he can approach God in any other way than as a sinner asking mercy. Know yourself to be wicked, and God will wrap you up warm in the mantle of His goodness” (Juan de Avila). “Remission of sins cannot be sundered from penitence, nor can the peace of God belong to consciences where the fear of God does not reign” (Calv.).
Perfectionism has two causes: (1) The stifling of conscience: “we make Him a liar, i.e., turn a deaf ear to His inward testimony, His voice in our souls. (2) Ignorance of His Word: it “is not in us”. Such a delusion were impossible if we steeped our minds in the Scriptures. Consider the lapses of the saints, e.g., David, Peter.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.