Expositor's Greek Testament
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.1 John 4:1-6. The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone forth into the world. Herein ye get to know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth Jesus as Christ come in flesh, is from God; and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus, is not from God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, whereof ye heard that it is coming, and now it is in the world already. Ye are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. They are from the world; therefore from the world they talk, and the world hearkeneth to them. We are from God; he that is getting to know God hearkeneth to us; one who is not from God, hearkeneth not to us. From this we get to know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error.”
1. The Apostle has just said that the Spirit begets in us the assurance that God abideth in us. And this suggests a warning. The Cerinthian heresy also had much to say about “the spirit”. It boasted a larger spirituality. Starting with the philosophical postulate of an irreconcilable antagonism between matter and spirit, it denied the possibility of the Incarnation and drew a distinction between Jesus and the Christ (see Introd., p. 157). Its spirit was not “the Spirit of Truth” but “a spirit of error,” and thus the necessity arises of “proving the spirits”. δοκιμάζειν, of “proving” or “testing” a coin (νόμισμα). If it stood the test, it was δόκιμον (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18); if it was found counterfeit (κίβδηλον), it was ἀφόκιμον (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7). Cf. Jeremiah 6:30 LXX: ἀργύριον ἀποδεδοκιμασμένον … ὅτι ἀπεδοκίμασεν αὐτοὺς Κύριος. ἐκ, here of commission, not parentage; “from God,” as His messengers. Cf. John 1:24; John 18:3; Soph., O.C., 735–737: ἀπεστάλην … οὐκ ἐξ ἑνὸς στείλαντος. πολλοί: Cerinthus had a large following. ἐξεληλ. εἰς τ. κόσμ., a monstrous reversal of John 17:18. They went forth from the Church into the world not to win but to deceive it.
2. The Test of the Spirits. γινώσκετε, as in 1 John 2:29, may be either indicat. (“ye recognise”) or, like πιστεύετε, δοκιμάζετε, imperat. (“recognise”). The former seems preferable. ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, “confesseth Jesus as Christ come in flesh,” an accurate definition of the doctrine which the Cerinthian heresy denied. The argument is destroyed by the false variant ἐληλυθέναι, “confesseth that Jesus Christ hath come,” confitetur Jesum Christum in carne venisse (Vulg.)
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.1 John 4:3. The Test negatively expressed. Omit Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα. τὸν Ἰησοῦν, “the aforementioned Jesus,” “jesus as thus described”. μή makes the statement hypothetical: “every spirit, if such there be, which doth not confess”. The variant λύει τὸν Ἰησοῦν, solvit Jesum (Vulg., Aug.), “dissolveth” or “severeth Jesus,” i.e., separates the divinity and the humanity, aptly defines the Cerinthian heresy. It was much appealed to in later days against Nestorius. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates (see crit. note) says it was the primitive reading, and was altered by “those who wished to separate the deity from the man of the Incarnation”. St. Augustine, defining heresy as schism due to lack of brotherly love, comments: “Ille venit colligere, tu venis solvere. Distringere vis membra Christi. Quomodo non negas Christum in carne venisse, qui disrumpis Ecclesiam Dei, quam ille congregavit? “On the Antichrist see note on 1 John 2:18. ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, “which ye have heard that it is coming”—the regular Greek idiom. Cf. Luke 4:34 : οἶδά σε τίς εἶ.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.1 John 4:4. ὑμεῖς emphatic (cf. 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27, 1 John 3:14), as contrasted with the deluded world. The faithful are God’s delegates (ἐκ), bearing their Master’s commission and continuing His warfare (John 20:21), and they have shared His victory (νενικήκατε). αὐτοὺς, i.e., the false prophets (1 John 4:1). Eum (Vulg.); “Quem nisi Antichristum?” (Aug.). ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν, i.e., God (cf. 1 John 3:24); ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, i.e., ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (John 12:31; John 14:30).
They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.1 John 4:5. αὐτοὶ (as opposed to ὑμεῖς) ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου εἰσίν, as its delegates, messengers, representatives, and as such ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν. λαλεῖν, not “speak” (λέγειν), but “talk,” with a suggestion of prating (cf. John 4:42). ἀκούειν takes accus. of the thing heard, genit. of the person from whom it is heard. Cf. Luke 5:1; Acts 1:4 (where both are combined). The world listens to those who speak its own language.
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.1 John 4:6. Conversely, those who are getting to know God, understand the language of His messengers and listen to it. ἐκ τούτου, i.e, from their hearkening or not hearkening. Men’s attitude to the message of the Incarnate Saviour ranks them on this side or on that—on God’s side or the world’s. Of course St. John does not ignore St. Paul’s ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ (Ephesians 4:15). The message may be the truth and be rejected, not because of the hearers’ worldliness, but because it is wrongly delivered—not graciously and winsomely. Cf. Rowland Hill’s anecdote of the preaching barber who had made a wig for one of his hearers—badly made and nearly double the usual price. When anything particularly profitable escaped the lips of the preacher, the hearer would observe to himself: “Excellent! This should touch my heart; but oh, the wig!” τῆς ἀληθείας see note on 1 John 1:8. τὸ πν. τῆς πλάνης, “the spirit that leadeth astray”.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.1 John 4:7-21. The Blessedness of Love. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and every one that loveth of God hath been begotten and is getting to know God. He that loveth not did not get to know God, because God is love. Herein was manifested the love of God in us, because His Son, His only-begotten, hath God commissioned into the world, that we may get life through Him. Herein is the love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and commissioned His Son as a propitiation for our sins.
“Beloved, if it was thus that God loved us, we also are bound to love one another. God—no one hath ever yet beheld Him: if we love one another, God abideth in us and His love is perfected in us. Herein we get to know that we abide in Him and He in us, because of His Spirit He hath given us. And we have beheld and testify that the Father hath commissioned the Son as Saviour of the world. Whosoever confesseth that Jesus is the Son of God, God in him abideth and he in God. And we have got to know and have believed the love which God hath in us.
“God is love, and he that abideth in love in God abideth, and God in him abideth. Herein hath love been perfected with us—so that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment—because, even as He is, we also are in this world. Fear there is not in love, but the perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth hath not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. If one say, ‘I love God,’ and hate his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, God whom he hath not seen, he cannot love. And this commandment have we from Him, that he that loveth God love also his brother.”
1 John 4:7. St. John reiterates the “old commandment” (1 John 2:7-11). It is so all-important that he cares not though his readers be tired of hearing it. Cf. the anecdote which St. Jerome relates on Galatians 6:10 : “Beatus Joannes Evangelista cum Ephesi moraretur usque ad ultimam senectutem, et vix inter discipulorum manus ad Ecclesiam deferretur, nec posset in plura vocem verba contexere, nihil aliud per singulas solebat proferre collectas nisi hoc: Filioli, diligite alterutrum. Tandem discipuli et fratres qui aderant, tædio affecti quod eadem semper audi-rent, dixerunt: Magister, quare semper hoc loqueris? Qui respondit dignam Joanne sententiam: Quia præceptum Domini est, et si solum fiat, sufficit.” Love is the divine nature, and those who love have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); and by the practice of love they “get to know God” more and more.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.1 John 4:8. Conversely, a stranger to love is a stranger to God. οὐκ ἔγνω, “did not get to know,” i.e., at the initial crisis of conversion. On μὴ see note on 1 John 2:4.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.1 John 4:9. The Incarnation is a manifestation of the love of God because it is a manifestation of the divine nature, and the divine nature is love. ἐν ἡμῖν, “in our souls”—an inward experience. Cf. Galatians 1:16 : ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί. μονογενῆ, cf. Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38. St. John applies the term exclusively to Jesus. It carries the idea of preciousness; cf. LXX Psalm 22:20; Psalm 35:17, where יְחִידָתִי, “my dear life,” is rendered τὴν μονογενῆ μου. ἀπέσταλκεν. “hath sent as an ἀπόστολος” (cf. Hebrews 3:1). An apostle is not simply nuntius, but nuntius vices mittentis gerens. Cf. Bab. Ber. 34, 2: “Apostolus cujusvis est sicut ipse a quo deputatur”. The perf. is used here because the influence of the Incarnation is permanent. ζήσωμεν, ingressive or inceptive aor. Cf. Luke 15:24; Luke 15:32; Revelation 20:4-5. ἵνα ζήσωμεν reconciles ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη with ἡ ζωὴ ἐφανερώθη (1 John 1:2). The Incarnation manifested the love of God, and the love was manifested that we might get life. Eternal Life is not future but present: we get it here and now. Cf. John 17:3. Amiel: “The eternal life is not the future life; it is life in harmony with the true order of things—life in God”.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.1 John 4:10. The love which proves us children of God is not native to our hearts. It is inspired by the amazing love of God manifested in the Incarnation—the infinite Sacrifice of His Son’s life and death. Aug.: “Non illum dileximus prius: nam ad hoc nos dilexit, ut diligamus eum.” ἀπέστειλεν: the aor. is used here because the Incarnation is regarded as a distinct event, a historic landmark.
Having inculcated love, the Apostle indicates two incentives thereto: (1) God’s love for us imposes on us a moral obligation to love one another (1 John 4:11-16 a); (2) If we have love in our hearts, fear is cast out (1 John 4:16-18).
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.1 John 4:11. Here, as in John 3:16, οὕτως may denote either the extent or the manner of God’s love—“to such an extent,” going such a length (cf. Romans 8:32); “in such a manner,” righteously, not by a facile amnesty but by a propitiation. ὀφείλομεν: see note on 1 John 2:6. Noblesse oblige. If we are God’s children, we must have our Father’s spirit. Cf. Matthew 5:44-48. Thus we requite His love. Aug.: “Petre, inquit, amas me? Et ille dixit: Amo. Pasce oves meas” (John 21:15-17).
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.1 John 4:12. “God—no one hath ever yet beheld Him”. By and by “we shall see Him even as He is” (1 John 3:2), but even now, if we love, we are no strangers to Him: He abides and works in us. τετελειωμένη, “carried to its end”; see note on 1 John 2:5.
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.1 John 4:13. Cf. 1 John 3:24. The argument is that God would not have granted us this priceless gift if he were not in intimate relation with us and had not a steadfast purpose of grace toward us.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.1 John 4:14. The apostolic testimony (cf. 1 John 1:1-3). ἡμεῖς, either the editorial “we” or “I and the rest of the Apostles who were eye-witnesses”. ἀπέσταλκεν, see note on 1 John 4:9.
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.1 John 4:15. ὁμολογήσῃ, aor. of a definite confession born of persuasion. Such a conviction implies fellowship with God.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.1 John 4:16. ἡμεῖς, here “you and I,” we believers. Observe the three stages: (1) “get to know” (γινώσκειν), (2) “believe” (πιστεύειν), (3) “confess” (ὁμολογεῖν). ἐν ἡμῖν, see note on 1 John 4:9.
Another incentive to love: it casts out fear. τῇ ἀγάπῃ, “the love just mentioned”. Cf. τὸν φόβον, ὁ φόβος (1 John 4:18).
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.1 John 4:17. τετελείωται, cf. 1 John 4:12. μεθʼ ἡμῶν: love is a heavenly visitant sojourning with us and claiming observance. Love has been “carried to its end” when we are like Jesus, His visible representatives. ὅτι resumes ἐν τούτῳ, ἵνα … κρίσεως being parenthetical: “herein … because” (1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10). παρρησίαν, see note on 1 John 2:28. ἐκεῖνος, see note on 1 John 2:6. ἐστιν, “is,” not ἧν, “was”. Jesus is in the world unseen, and our office is to make Him visible. We are to Him what He was to the Father in the days of His flesh—“Dei inaspecti aspectabilis imago”.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.1 John 4:18. Bern.: “Amor reverentiam nescit”. φόβος, the opposite of παρρησία. κόλασιν ἔχει, “implies punishment,” the portion of slaves. The portion of slaves is punishment (κόλασις) and their spirit fear; the portion of sons is chastisement (παιδεία) and their spirit boldness (παρρησία). Cf. Hebrews 12:7, Clem. Alex.: “Perfectio fidelis hominis caritas est”. Aug.: “Major charitas, minor timor; minor charitas, major timor”. Bengel has here one of his untranslatable comments: “Varius hominum status: sine timore et amore; cum timore sine amore; cum timore et amore; sine timore cum amore”.
We love him, because he first loved us.1 John 4:19. ἀγαπῶμεν has no accus. The thought is that the amazing love of God in Christ is the inspiration of all the love that stirs in our hearts. It awakens within us an answering love—a grateful love for Him manifesting itself in love for our brethren (cf. 1 John 4:11). The insertion of αὐτόν is a clumsy and unnecessary gloss. Neither should οὖν be inserted and ἀγαπῶμεν taken as hortat. subjunctive. Vulg.: “Nos ergo diligamus Deum, quoniam Deus prior dilexit nos”.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?1 John 4:20. Lest the vagueness of the objectless ἀγαπῶμεν encourage false security, St. John reiterates the old test: Love for the invisible Father is manifested in love for the brother by our side, the image of the Father. Cf. Whittier:—
“Not thine the bigot’s partial plea,
Nor thine the zealot’s ban;
Thou well canst spare a love of thee
Which ends in hate of man”.
ψεύστης, see note on 1 John 1:6.
And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.1 John 4:21. The Old Commandment. Cf. 1 John 2:7-11.