1 John 4
Vincent's Word Studies
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Again the recognition of danger from false spirits prompts this affectionate address. Compare 1 John 3:21.

Try (δοκιμάζετε)

Better, as Rev., prove. See on 1 Peter 1:7; see on Luke 12:55. Compare the phrase discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Of God (ἐκ)

Out of: proceeding from.

False prophets (ψευδοπροφῆται)

The term is applied in the New Testament to rivals of true prophets under the old dispensation (Luke 6:26; 2 Peter 2:1), and to rivals of the apostles under the gospel economy (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). In Revelation to "the embodied power of spiritual falsehood" (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10). The false prophet supports his claims by signs and portents (Matthew 24:24; Acts 13:6; Revelation 19:20) and is thus distinguished from the false teacher. See 2 Peter 2:1, where the two terms occur together.

Are gone out (ἐξαληλύθασιν)

The perfect tense indicates that the influence of their going out on their false mission is in operation at the present.

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
Hereby (ἐν τούτῳ)

See on 1 John 2:3.

Know ye (γινῶσκετε)

Perceive. See on John 2:24.

Confesseth (ὁμολογεῖ)

See on Matthew 7:23; see on Matthew 10:32.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (Ἱησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα)

Lit., Jesus Christ having come, etc. The whole phrase forms the direct object of the verb confesseth.

Of God

Compare 1 Corinthians 12:3.

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.
Is come in the flesh

Omit. Render, confesseth not Jesus. So Rev. An ancient reading is λύει τὸν Ἱησοῦν annulleth or destroyeth Jesus." The simple Jesus emphasizes the humanity of our Lord considered in itself. See Romans 3:26; Romans 10:9; 2 Corinthians 11:4; Ephesians 4:21; Hebrews 2:9.

This (τοῦτο)

Not this spirit, but this non-confession, summed up in all its manifestations.


See on 1 John 2:18.

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.
Have overcome

See on 1 John 2:13.


Compare 1 John 3:20.

In you

The Christian society. Compare John 6:56; John 14:20; John 15:4-10; John 17:23, John 17:26; Galatians 2:20 (of the individual).

He that is in the world

In 1 John 5:19, the world is said to be in the evil one. Compare Ephesians 2:2.

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
Of the world (ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου)

Proceeding from, as their source (ἐκ). Different from ἐκ τῆς γῆς from the earth (John 3:31), as marking the whole worldly economy morally considered.

Speak they of the world (ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν)

An ambiguous rendering, which might readily be interpreted "they speak concerning the world." Literally it is: "they speak out of the world; i.e., the character of their utterances corresponds to their origin. Rev., "speak they as of the world." The position of the world in the sentence is emphatic: "it is out of the world that they speak."

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.
He that knoweth (ὁ γινώσκων)

Lit., the one knowing: he who is habitually and ever more clearly perceiving and recognizing God as his Christian life unfolds. The knowledge is regarded as progressive and not complete. Compare Philippians 3:12, and He who is calling (ὁ καλῶν, 1 Thessalonians 5:24) also ὁ ἀγαπῶν he that loves (1 John 4:7).

Hereby (ἐκ τούτου)

Not the same as the common ἐν τούτῳ (1 John 4:2). It occurs only here in the Epistle. Ἑν τούτῳ is in this: ἐκ τούτου from this. The former marks the residing or consisting of the essence or truth of a thing in something the apprehension of which conveys to us the essential nature of the thing itself. The latter marks the inference or deduction of the truth from something, as contrasted with its immediate perception in that something. Rev., by this.

The spirit of error (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης)

The phrase occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Compare πνεύμασι πλάνοις misleading spirits, 1 Timothy 4:1.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
Of God (ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ)

Flows from God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Knoweth not (οὐκ ἔγνω)

The aroist tense: did not know, from the beginning. He never knew.

Is love (ἀγάπη ἐστίν)

See on God is light (1 John 1:5), and the truth (1 John 1:6); also God is spirit (John 4:24). Spirit and light are expressions of God's essential nature. Love is the expression of His personality corresponding to His nature. See on love of God (1 John 2:5). Truth and love stand related to each other. Loving is the condition of knowing.

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.
Was manifested

See on John 21:1; see on 1 John 3:5.

Toward us (ἐν ἡμῖν)

Wrong. Not "among us," as John 1:14, nor "in us;" but as Rev., in margin, in our case.

Sent (ἀπέσταλκεν)

John describes the incarnation as a sending, more frequently than in any other way. Ἁποστέλλω is to send under commission, as an envoy. The perfect tense, hath sent, points to the abiding results of the sending. See on 1 John 3:5.

His only-begotten Son (τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ)

Lit., His Son, the only-begotten (Son). A mode of expression common in John, enlarging upon the meaning of a noun by the addition of an adjective or a participle with the article. See 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:8, 1 John 2:25; 1 John 5:4; John 6:41, John 6:44, John 6:50, John 6:51; John 15:1, etc. On only-begotten, see on John 1:14.

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

See on 1 John 2:2.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
So (οὕτως)


We ought

See on 1 John 2:6.

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Beginning the sentence emphatically, and without the article: God as God. "God hath no man ever yet seen." Compare John 1:18.

His love

Not our love to Him, nor His love to us, but the love which is peculiarly His; which answers to His nature.

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
We have seen (πεθεάμεθα)

Have deliberately and steadfastly contemplated. Compare 1 John 1:1, and see on John 1:14.

Do testify (μαρτυροῦμεν)

Rev., bear witness. See on John 1:7.


See on 1 John 4:9.

The Savior of the world

See the same phrase, John 4:42, and compare John 3:17. Σωτήρ Savior, occurs in John only here and John 4:42. Elsewhere it is applied both to God (1 Timothy 1:1; 1 Timothy 2:3; Titus 1:3; Titus 2:10; Titus 3:4; Jde 1:25), and to Christ (Luke 2:11; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:23; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4, etc.). The title is found in Paul's Epistles of the Captivity (Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20), and in the Pastorals (see above), but not in Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, or Thessalonians. In classical writings the term is applied to many deities, especially to Zeus (Jupiter); also to Hermes (Mercury), Apollo, Hercules, and even to female deities, as Fortune and Aphrodite (Venus). "Zeus Soter" (Zeus Savior) was used as a formula in drinking at banquets. The third cup was dedicated to him. Compare Plato: "Then, by way of a third libation to the savior Zeus, let us sum up and reassert what has been said" ("Philebus," 66). The drinking of this cup was a symbol of good fortune, and the third time came to mean the lucky time. "Twice then has the just man overthrown the unjust; and now comes the third trial, which, after Olympic fashion, is sacred to Zeus the savior,... and surely this will prove the greatest and most decisive of falls" (Plato, "Republic," 583). Hence the proverb, τὸ τρίτον τῳ σωτῆρι, lit., the third to the savior; i.e., the third or lucky time. The name was also given later to princes or public benefactors. The kindred noun σωτηρία salvation, does not occur in John's Epistles, and appears only once in the Gospel (John 4:22). It is found thrice in Revelation (Revelation 7:10; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 19:1). Σώζειν to save occurs six times in John's Gospel, and once in Revelation (Revelation 21:24). It does not appear in the Epistles.

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
Whosoever (ὀς ἐὰν)

Lit., who if there be any.

Shall confess

See on 1 John 1:9.

Son of God

See on 1 John 1:7.

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.
The love which God hath

On this use of ἔχειν to have, see on John 16:22. Compare John 8:35.

To us (ἐν ἡμῖν)

Rev., in us. Compare God abideth in Him.

Dwelleth in love, etc.

See John 15:9, John 15:10. Rev., abideth.

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.
Herein (ἐν τούτῳ)

To what does this refer? Two explanations are given. (1.) To the following that we may have boldness. So Huther, who argues thus on the ground that 1 John 4:18 shows that the drift of the writer's thought is toward the fearlessness of love. According to this, therefore, love has its fulfillment in freeing us from fear, and inspiring us with boldness even in view of the final judgment. (2.) To what precedes, viz., our dwelling in God and He in us. So Westcott: "The fellowship of God with man and of man with God, carries with it the consummation of love." I prefer the latter, principally on the ground that in such phrases as ἐν τούτῳ in this, διὰ τοῦτο on this account, therefore, the pronoun usually refers to something preceding, though more fully developed in what follows. See John 5:16, John 5:18; John 6:65; John 8:47; John 10:17; John 12:18; John 16:15.

Our love (ἡ ἀγάπη μεθ' ἡμῶν)

The A.V. construes μεθ' ἡμῶν with us, with love, making with us equivalent to our. In that case it might mean either the love which is between Christians, or the love which is between God and Christians. The Rev. construes with us with the verb: love is made perfect with us. The latter is preferable. I do not think it would be easy to point out a parallel in the New Testament to the expression ἀγάπη μεθ' love that with us equals our love. The true idea is that love is perfected in fellowship. The love of God is perfected with us, in communion with us, through our abiding in Him and He in us. "Love is not simply perfected in man, but in fulfilling this issue God works with man" (Westcott). Compare 2 John 1:3, "grace shall be with us" (true reading); and Acts 25:4, "what things God had done with them." See also Matthew 1:23; 1 Corinthians 16:24; Galatians 6:18. Μετά with, is used constantly in the New Testament of ethical relations. See Matthew 20:2; Matthew 2:3; Luke 23:12; Acts 7:9; Romans 12:15; 1 John 1:6.

Boldness (παῤῥησίαν)

See on 1 John 2:28.

The day of judgment (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς κρίσεως)

Lit., the day of judgment. The exact phrase occurs here only. Ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως day of judgment, without the articles, is found Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22, Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:36; 2 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:7. The day is called the great day of their wrath (Revelation 6:17); the day of wrath and of revelation of the righteous judgement of God (Romans 2:5); the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12); the last day (John 6:39, John 6:40, John 6:44, John 6:54); that day (Matthew 7:22; Luke 6:23; Luke 10:12). The judgment is found Matthew 12:41, Matthew 12:42; Luke 10:14; Luke 11:31, Luke 11:32.


Likeness to Christ is the ground of boldness.

As (καθὼς)

Not absolutely, but according to our measure, as men in this world.

He is

The present tense is very significant. Compare 1 John 3:7, "is righteous even as He is righteous." The essence of out being as He is lies in perfected love; and Christ is eternally love. "He that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him." Compare 1 John 3:2.

In this world

This present economy, physical and moral. The phrase limits the conception of likeness.

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.
There is no fear in love (φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ)

Lit., fear is not. It has no existence. The fear is that spoken of in 1 Peter 1:17; Hebrews 12:28; godly fear; filial reverence; not slavish fear, as Romans 8:15. In love, lit., the love, that perfected love of which John has been speaking.

Perfect (τελεία)

Not perfected, as 1 John 4:17 but perfect as the result of having been perfected. Compare Hebrews 5:14; James 1:4; James 3:2.

Casteth out (ἔξω βάλλει)

A strong expression: turneth out of doors. Fear is cast out of the sphere of the fellowship of love. See the phrase in John 6:37; John 9:34, John 9:35; John 12:31; John 15:6.

Hath torment (κόλασιν ἔχει)

Torment is a faulty translation. The word means punishment, penalty. It occurs in the New Testament only here and Matthew 25:46. The kindred verb, κολάζομαι to punish, is found Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. Note the present tense, hath. The punishment is present. Fear by anticipating punishment has it even now. The phrase hath punishment (see on John 16:22) indicates that the punishment is inherent in the fear. Fear carries its own punishment. Augustine, commenting on the expulsion of fear by love, says: "As in sewing, we see the thread passed through by the needle. The needle is first pushed in, but the thread cannot be introduced until the needle is brought out. So fear first occupies the mind, but does not remain permanently, because it entered for the purpose of introducing love." The words because fear hath punishment are parenthetical.

He that feareth

The A.V. omits and (δὲ), which is important as closely connecting this clause with there is no fear in love, etc. That is an abstract statement; this is personal; two modes of stating the same truth. Rev. "and he that feareth."

Is not made perfect

"Men's condition is varied; without fear and love; with fear without love; with fear and love; without fear with love" (Bengel).

We love him, because he first loved us.
We love Him (ἡμεῖς ἀγαπῶμεν αὐτὸν)

The best texts omit Him. Some render let us love, as 1 John 4:7. The statement is general, relating to the entire operation of the principle of love. All human love is preceded and generated by the love of God.

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?
He that loveth not his brother, etc.

Note the striking inversion of the clauses: He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, God whom he hath not seen cannot love.


The best tests omit, and give the direct statement cannot love. So Rev.

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
That (ἵνα)

Not defining the contents of the commandment, but expressing intent. Compare John 13:34, and see on John 15:13.

His brother

"To the persecutor Saul, Christ said, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? I have ascended into heaven, yet still I lie upon earth. Here I sit at the right hand of the Father; there I still hunger, thirst, and am a stranger'" (Augustine).

Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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