Where the world comes to study the Bible

Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 3:11-24

    Structure

This section marks the beginning of the second major part of 1 John, 3:11–5:12.427 The present unit begins with the assertion au{th ejstiVn hJ ajggeliva (Jauth estin Jh angelia, translated by the NET Bible as “this is the gospel message”), which parallels the similar assertion of 1:5.428 The unit ends with 3:24, since 4:1-6 is one of only a few sections almost all interpreters would agree is a discrete unit within 1 John. The similarity between 3:11 and 3:23, both of which mention the command to love one another, also suggests that 3:11-24 should be regarded as a single unit.

Within the present unit, indications for subdivisions are less clear, but the author’s tendency to use a direct address to the readers to mark a subdivision (cf. 2:1, 7, 12, 18, 28; 3:7) suggests 3:13 (ajdelfoiv [adelfoi, literally “brothers”]) and 3:18 (tekniva [teknia, “little children”]) as beginning new subsections.

    3:11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another,

    Summary

Once more the phrase from the beginning is a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in the course of his earthly life and ministry. The gospel message the author refers to here is that we should love one another, a restatement of Jesus’ command to the disciples in John 15:12, which is itself a restatement of the “new commandment” of John 13:34.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, translated by the NET Bible as “for”) at the beginning of 3:11. It could be argued that the o{ti (Joti) at the beginning of 1 John 3:11 is grammatically subordinate to the preceding statement at the end of 3:10. As Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, however, “Subordination with o{ti and diovti is often very loose…so that it must be translated ‘for’.”429 Thus o{ti (Joti) approaches an inferential sense, standing at the beginning of a new sentence and drawing an inference based on all that has preceded. This is confirmed by the structural parallel between the present verse and 1:5.430

The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) in 3:11. The “beginning” here is once more a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in the course of his earthly life and ministry.431 This is consistent with earlier usage of the phrase in 1 John 1:1 and 2:7; cf. also 2 John 5-6. The possibility exists, as mentioned by Smalley, that the expression looks back even earlier to an Old Testament background, even to the beginning of human history itself.432 At first this might seem more likely in view of the introduction of Cain and Abel in the following verse. However, it is important to note that v. 11 looks at the experience of the readers (“that you have heard from the beginning”), and it seems much more likely that “the beginning” in this case means essentially the same as it did in the earlier usage in 2:7.

The relationship of 3:11 to 1:5. The present verse begins with a clause that is structurally parallel to the first clause of 1 John 1:5, a key observation in our decision to regard 3:11 as the beginning of a second major section of 1 John.433 The repetition of ajggeliva (angelia, translated by the NET Bible as “gospel message”), which occurs in both 1:5 and 3:11, also points to a relationship between the two verses. We have understood ajggeliva (angelia) to be a Johannine term for the “gospel” and thus virtually equivalent to eujaggevlion (euangelion, the usual Greek term for the gospel in the New Testament).434 The phrase i{na ajgapw'men ajllhvlou (Jina agapwmen allhlous, “that we should love one another”) in 3:11 points to Jesus’ command to the disciples to “love one another” in John 15:12, which is itself a restatement of the “new commandment” given by Jesus in John 13:34-35. There is a sense in which the following material is an elaboration on the discussion of obedience to God’s commandments and the need to show love to fellow believers in 2:3-11 (note 2:10, “The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light”). There is even a sense, as Dodd said, that as far as the author is concerned, “love and hatred are the typical forms of righteousness and sin respectively.”435

    3:12 not like Cain who was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous.

    Summary

Cain serves here as the negative example not to follow – instead of loving his brother he did the opposite – he brutally murdered his brother. The reason the author of 1 John gives for this murder is because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous. Again we find the stark contrast between righteous and evil deeds, just as we have seen before in the contrast between light and darkness (John 3:19-21): “the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” But the author also says here that Cain…was of the evil one. In the immediate context this imagery serves to illustrate 1 John 3:8a: “the one who practices sin is of the devil.” This is also similar to John 8:44, where Jesus told his adversaries “you people are from your father the devil…he was a murderer from the beginning.” In both Jewish and early Christian writings Cain serves as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the imagery of Cain in 3:12. The mention of Cain and his brother with its allusion to Gen 4:1-16 constitutes the only direct reference to the Old Testament in 1 John.436 However, in stating that Cain was “of the evil one” (ejk tou' ponhrou', ek tou ponhrou), the author goes farther than any other New Testament writer.437 In the immediate context this statement about Cain serves as an illustration of 3:8a: the person who practices sin is “of the devil” (ejk tou' diabovlou, ek tou diabolou). This is similar to John 8:44, where Jesus told his opponents “you people are from your father the devil…he was a murderer (ajnqrwpoktovno, anqrwpoktonos) from the beginning.” In both Jewish and early Christian writings Cain appears as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve.438 With this kind of background it is not difficult to see why the author of 1 John used Cain here as a model for the opponents in light of their failure to “love the brothers” (cf. 1 John 3:17).

The meaning of the term e[sfaxen (esfaxen, “brutally murdered”) in 3:12. This Greek verb occurs in the LXX in a number of settings involving sacrifice (e.g., Isaac in Gen 22:10, but see also Judg 12:6). In the New Testament the only other place the verb occurs is in Revelation, in 5:6, 9, 12; 6:4, 9; 13:3, 8; 18:24.439 Smalley thought the term was deliberately used by the author here to suggest violence and translated it “butchered.”440

The significance of the contrast between ponhrav (ponhra, “evil”) and divkaia (dikaia, “righteous”) in 3:12. Just as the author has tended to portray the issues before the readers in antithetical (‘either/or’) terms before, so here the contrast between the evil deeds of Cain and the righteous deeds of his brother Abel is portrayed in the same way. Again, this echoes John 3:19-21, where “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” There is no middle ground between evil and righteousness or between light and darkness in the author’s portrayal; one must choose one side or the other. This is especially understandable in view of the radical threat which the author sees in the innovative but heretical teaching of the opponents: he wants his readers to make no mistake about the seriousness of the issues involved, and so he presents those issues in terms that are mutually exclusive and completely opposite. Under these dire circumstances, no room can be left for anyone to sit on the fence.

    3:13 Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

    Summary

Since the way Cain treated his brother Abel is the way unbelievers generally treat believers, John tells his readers do not be surprised…if the world hates you. Hatred of the world for believers is a familar theme in the Gospel of John (15:18, 17:14). It is now also an emerging theme 1 John, though in this case it may particularly refer to the hatred of the secessionist opponents who have departed from the Christian community the author is writing to, and have gone back into the world. This hatred is directed at those of the community they left behind.

    Exegetical Details

The response of believers when the world hates them. The author tells his readers not to marvel when the world hates them. The expression he uses, mhV qaumavzete (mh qaumazete, “do not be surprised,” “do not marvel”), is characteristically Johannine, occurring in John 3:7; 5:28. The hatred of the world for believers is a new theme in 1 John, although it was foreshadowed in 3:1 by the author’s assertion that the world “does not know” believers. Now the hostility of the world toward believers, a familiar theme in the Gospel of John (15:18, 17:14), is made explicit. The same theme of the contrast between those who are in the world (those who have rejected Jesus) and Jesus’ followers is also restated later in 1 John 4:5-6: “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” Although when one speaks of hatred for believers by the world one might think of persecution, it becomes clear in v. 17 that for the author of 1 John this “hatred” he is speaking about consists of the absence of love.441

The force of the conditional construction with eij (ei, “if”) in v. 13. The semantic force of the statement here can be either “if (= whether) the world hates you” or “if (= that) the world hates you.” In context, though, it is clear that the statement describes a present situation rather than a hypothetical one.442 The secessionist opponents, who have departed from the community to which the author is writing and have “gone out into the world” (4:1), are now showing hatred for their former associates (cf. 3:17) by refusing to assist them materially, a violation of the commandment to love one another.

    3:14 We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death.

    Summary

In contrast to the world’s hostile reaction to believers, believers may have assurance that they have crossed over from death to life. This refers to a present experience of eternal life rather than an experience confined to the world to come, and is completely in line with the perspective of the Fourth Gospel on eternal life as a present possession of believers (John 5:24). The assurance the readers of 1 John may have that they possess this eternal life comes from loving fellow believers (We know…because we love our fellow Christians). As in 1 John 2:3 and 2:5, obedience to the “new commandment” to love one another becomes the basis for assurance. Love for fellow believers is in fact a form of God’s love for us because as far as John is concerned, all love comes from God (1 John 4:7-11). But the person who refuses to love fellow believers remains in a state of spiritual death. Such a person is surely an unbeliever, as the following verse makes clear. Ultimately these verses will apply to the secessionist opponents (3:17) and the fact that they remain in a state of spiritual death demonstrates (again, as in 2:19) that as far as the author of 1 John is concerned they were never really genuine believers to begin with, no matter what they claimed.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”) in 3:14. In contrast to the world’s hostile reaction to the readers, they may be assured that they do indeed possess eternal life.443 The first Joti-clause, following a verb of perception, introduces an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what the readers are assumed to know: that they have passed from death to life, that is, that they possess eternal life. The author gives a similar reassurance to his readers in 5:13. Alternation between the verbs oi\da (oida, “I know”) and ginwvskw (ginwskw, “I know”) in 1 John is probably a matter of sylistic variation (of which the writer is extremely fond) rather than indicative of a subtle difference in meaning.444

The meaning of metabebhvkamen (metabebhkamen, “crossed over”) in 3:14. This verb essentially means “to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over.445 In John 13:1 it is used to refer to Jesus’ departure from this world as he returns to the Father. Here it is used figuratively to refer to the believer’s transfer from the state of (spiritual) death to the state of (spiritual) life. This use has a close parallel in John 5:24, where Jesus states, “the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over (metabevbhken [metabebhken], same verb) from death to life.” The use of perfect tense both here and in John 5:24 indicates that for the author this transfer is viewed as a past action for his readers, whom he views as genuine Christians, although it has results that persist at the time he writes.

The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:14. The second Joti-clause in 1 John 3:14 is also related to oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”), but in this case the o{ti (Joti) is causal, giving the reason why the readers know that they have passed from death to life: because they love their fellow Christians.446 This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.” As in 1 John 2:3 and 2:5, obedience becomes the basis for assurance. But the relationship between loving one’s fellow Christian and possessing eternal life goes beyond a proof or external test, because as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, all love comes from God (cf. 1 John 4:7-11). Therefore he can add the next line of 3:14, “the one who does not love remains in death.”447 Why? Because such a person does not have God’s love residing in them at all. Rather, this person can be described as a “murderer” – as the following verse goes on to state. Note also that the author’s description here of the person who does not love as remaining in death is another way of describing a person who remains in darkness, which is a description of unbelievers in John 12:46. This provides further confirmation of our interpretation of the spiritual state of the author’s opponents in 2:9-11.448

    3:15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

    Summary

Here the person who hates his fellow Christian is just as guilty as if he had murdered him. This is strong language indeed, but failure to show love to fellow believers is a serious matter as far as the author of 1 John is concerned. Failure to show love for fellow believers is an indication that eternal life is not present within the individual who fails to love. Once again, one’s behavior is a measure of one’s spiritual status.

    Exegetical Details

The description of the person who hates his fellow Christian as a murderer (ajnqrwpoktovno, anqrwpoktonos) in 3:15. On one level it is easy to see how the author could say this; the person who hates his fellow believer (literally, “brother”) is one and the same with the person who murders his fellow believer. Behind the usage here, however, is John 8:44, the only other occurrence of ajnqrwpoktovno (anqrwpoktonos) in the New Testament, where the devil is described as a “murderer from the beginning.” John 8:44 refers to the devil’s role in bringing death to Adam and Eve, but even more to his involvement in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel.449 This was the first incident of murder in human history and also the first outward demonstration of the full implications of sin’s entry into the world. Ultimately, then, the devil is behind murder, just as he was behind Cain’s murder of Abel. When the hater kills, he shows himself to be a child of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:10).450 Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity: how one behaves is an indicator of who one’s parent is. The author is not saying that every individual who hates will inevitably become a murderer at some future point, nor is he denying that a murderer is beyond repentance and forgiveness. What he is saying is that hatred is in the same moral category as murder.451

The significance of the use of mevnw (menw, “reside”) in 3:15. Here the verb refers to a spiritual reality (eternal life) which in this case does not reside in the person in question.452 While in some contexts the verb mevnw (menw) can be translated as “remain” as well as “reside,” to speak in terms of eternal life not “residing” in the individual who is a “murderer” of his fellow Christian is not to imply that at some time in the past this person did possess eternal life and subsequently lost it. The previous verse (3:14) makes it clear that the individual under discussion here has “remained” in death (i.e., the realm of spiritual death) and so has never possessed eternal life to begin with, no matter what he or she may have claimed. Taken together with the use of mevnw (menw) in 3:14, the use here implies that the opponents have “remained” in death all along, and have not ever been genuine believers.453 Thus the NET Bible translates “residing” rather than “remaining” for the participle mevnousan (menousan) here.

    3:16 We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.

    Summary

In contrast to the hatred shown by the opponents for fellow members of the Christian community – and the hatred of Cain shown for his brother Abel – is the standard of love for fellow believers given by Jesus himself – Jesus laid down his life for us. Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of believers forms a strong motivation for them to lay down their lives for fellow believers. For the author, this act of selfless sacrifice on Jesus’ part becomes the very standard by which love is measured (We have come to know love by this). It is also the standard of love expected between believers in the Christian community to which the author is writing.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:16. Here the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) is followed by a Joti-clause which is epexegetical or explanatory, and thus ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) refers to what follows. This is indicated in the NET Bible translation by a colon.454

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 3:16. The mention of the sacrificial death in 3:16 (“laid down his life for us”) points to Jesus as the referent here. This provides further confirmation that we correctly interpreted ejkei'no (ekeinos) in 2:6, 3:3, 3:5, and 3:7 as references to Jesus.455

The use of the verb tivqhmi (tiqhmi, “laid down”) in Johannine theology with reference to the death of Jesus. References to Jesus “laying down his life” using the verb tivqhmi (tiqhmi) are unique to the Gospel of John (10:11, 15, 17, 18; 13:37, 38; 15:13) and 1 John (only here). From John’s perspective Jesus’ act in giving up his life sacrificially was a voluntary one; Jesus was always completely in control of the situation surrounding his arrest, trials, and crucifixion (cf. John 10:18).456 There is another parallel with 1 John 2:6 beyond the use of ejkei'no (ekeinos): there, as here, the life of Jesus (during his earthly ministry) becomes the example for believers to follow. This in turn underscores the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (especially his sacrificial death on the cross), a point of contention between the author and his opponents in 1 John. See 1 John 4:10 for a further parallel.

Even if it could be argued in the Gospel of John that the evangelist’s interpretation of the death of Jesus focuses on its exemplary nature, in which the cross is seen as a revelation of self-sacrificial love and an example for believers to follow, the notion of Jesus dying “for” the sin of people is not absent from the Fourth Gospel.457 Here in 1 John, however, the concept of Christ’s vicarious suffering becomes explicit with the use of uJpeVr hJmw'n (Juper Jhmwn, “for us”), even if the exemplary element is retained (cf. 3:16b) and the author does not spell out exactly how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross contributes to the salvation of people. C. Maurer argued that the phrase here (ejkei'no uJpeVr hJmw'n thVn yuchVn aujtou' e[qhken, “that one [= Jesus] laid down his life for us”) is the Johannine version of Mark 10:45b (= Matt 20:28) which states the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (using dou'nai [dounai] instead of tivqhmi [tiqhmi]), and is derived from the text of Isa 53:10.458 If Maurer is correct this would indicate that the author’s emphasis here was on the expiatory nature of Jesus’ death (cf. 1 John 2:1). Note also in this regard the similarity to the discourse in John 10 on the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (10:11, same verb as here [tivqhmi, tiqhmi]).

The obligation placed on believers by 3:16b. Although the primary allusion in this verse is to Jesus’ own self-sacrifice on the cross, it is important to note that the obligation placed on believers here to do likewise finds its basis not only in Jesus’ sacrifice but in his words to the disciples in the Farewell Discourse, John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.” In its original context this has reference to Jesus’ own death, but in the context of 1 John where the statement is applied to relationships between Christians, the “friends” are clearly the fellow members of the Christian community to which the author is writing.459

    3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?

    Summary

The exact opposite to the sacrificial love for fellow Christians that Jesus himself demonstrated by his death (and which is expected of all Christians) is now illustrated. The individual who has the world’s possessions and yet fails to show any compassion for a fellow Christian in need demonstrates that he or she does not have God’s love residing within. The author’s point is made by asking a rhetorical question which assumes a negative answer: the love of God cannot reside in such a person. This is the only specific moral fault the author ever charges the secessionist opponents with anywhere in 1 John.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of toVn bivon tou' kovsmou (ton bion tou kosmou, “the world’s possessions”) in 3:17. The Greek term bivo (bios) here refers to “resources needed to maintain life, means of subsistence” – material goods or property.460 Note the vivid contrast with Jesus’ example in the preceding verse: he was willing to lay down his very life (thVn yuchVn aujtou', thn yuchn autou), but the person in view here in 3:17 is not even willing to lay down part of his material possessions for the sake of his fellow Christian! This is the same Greek word used in 1 John 2:16, where it is translated by the NET Bible as “material possessions.” The genitive qualifier tou' kovsmou (tou kosmou, “the world’s”) suggests an allusion to 1 John 2:15-17 where the author instructed the readers not to love “the world.” However, some interpreters have held that the phrase carries no pejorative or negative connotations here, but simply means “worldly possessions.”461

The meaning of the phrase kleivsh/ taV splavgcna (kleish ta splancna, “shuts off…compassion”) in 3:17. This is the only use of the noun splavgcna (splancna) in the Johannine literature of the New Testament, although it is fairly common in Paul (e.g., 2 Cor 6:12; 7:15; Phil 1:8; 2:1; Col 3:12; Phlm 7, 12, 20).462 In classical Greek the term referred to the “inward parts” of the body, and by transference of meaning came to refer to “impulsive passions” such as anger, anxious desire, and even love. But the pre-Christian Greek usage of the noun apparently did not include mercy or compassion. In the LXX, many references have the general sense of “entrails” with respect to sacrificial animals, although one can find the sense “seat of feelings” in 2 Macc 9:5-6 and Sir 30:7. In Prov 17:5 the verb (splagcnivzomai, splancnizomai) in the middle voice means “to be merciful.” The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs offer numerous examples of the term in the sense of “showing mercy” (T. Zeb. 5:3-4; 7:2-3; 8:1-5). Some translations render the term here in 1 John 3:17 as “heart,” understanding that term to refer not to the physical organ but to the seat or center of the compassionate action here expected, thus exchanging an ancient metaphor for a modern one. The NET Bible prefers, however, to render the term as “compassion,” a reference to the action itself.

The force of the rhetorical question at the end of 3:17. The author asks at the end of 1 John 3:17, “How can the love of God reside in such a person?” The full force of v. 17 becomes evident in this rhetorical question at the end, which expects a negative answer. Once again the verb mevnw (menw, “reside”) is used of a spiritual reality (in this case the love of God, see the next paragraph) which does or does not ‘reside’ in a person.463 Although the author uses the indefinite relative o} d= a]n (Jos dan, “whoever”), it is clear that he has the opponents in view here. This is the only specific moral fault the author of 1 John ever charges his opponents with in the entire letter. It is also clear that the author sees it as impossible that such a person, who refuses to offer help in his fellow Christian’s time of need (and thus ‘hates’ his fellow believer rather than ‘loving’ him, cf. 3:15) can have any of the love which comes from God residing in him. This person, from the author’s antithetical ‘either/or’ perspective, cannot be a genuine Christian.464 The semantic force of the deliberative rhetorical question, “How can the love of God reside in him?”, therefore becomes a declarative statement about the spiritual condition of the opponents, meaning “The love of God cannot possibly reside in him.”

The force of the genitive in the phrase hJ ajgavph tou' qeou' (Jh agaph tou qeou, “the love of God”). The difficulty in this phrase lies in its ambiguity – tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) can be understood as either objective genitive (meaning “our love for God”) or as subjective genitive (meaning “God’s love for us”).465 Here a subjective genitive, indicating God’s love for us – the love which comes from God – appears more likely because of the parallelism with “eternal life” (zwhVn aijwvnion, zwhn aiwnion) in 1 John 3:15, which also comes from God. Thus the author is not saying that the person who does not love his brother cannot love God either (although this may be true enough), but rather that the person who does not love his brother shows by this failure to love that he does not have any of the love which comes from God ‘residing’ in him.466 Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity, or as Malatesta observed, “Christian love implies Christian faith.”467

    3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.

    Summary

The first noun in each pair is produced by the second noun: words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth. The author exhorts his readers to love one another not merely with words, but with real actions that spring from their relationship to the truth. In spite of the fact that many interpreters simply assume the author is merely repeating a general proverbial statement, it is difficult to see why he would do so here, in light of his ongoing polemic against the secessionist opponents. Especially after the statements about seeing a fellow member of the Christian community in need and shutting off one’s compassion against that person as described in the preceding verse, it is much more likely that what we have here is intended by the author to be applied specifically in the situtation he is addressing in 1 John. Such behavior on the part of the readers will contribute to their assurance even in a time of self-doubt, as the following context explains.

    Exegetical Details

The authors use of tekniva (teknia, “little children”) to address the readers in 3:18. Here again the author’s direct address to the readers as tekniva (teknia) indicates the beginning of a new subsection within 3:11-24. Tekniva (teknia, the diminutive form of tevkna [tekna, “children”]) is used here as a term of endearment as it is in 1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 4:4, and 5:21. It indicates the warmth of affection the author feels for the recipients of the letter – he is genuinely concerned for their spiritual welfare.

The relationship between lovgw/ (logw, “with word”) and glwvssh/ (glwssh, “with tongue”) and between e[rgw/ (ergw, “in deed”) and ajlhqeiva/ (alhqeia, “truth”) in 3:18. There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, ajlhqeiva/ (alhqeia, “truth”), in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the manner in which believers are to love. If we compare the two pairs of nouns, however, it is hard to see how the second noun (glwvssh/ [glwssh, “with tongue”]) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are supposed to love one another are produced by the truth. As Smalley noted, “The major concern of this passage is to encourage obedient and active love from all those who claimed allegiance to the Johannine church.”468 1 John 3:18 marks the beginning of another section aimed at the readers of 1 John as members of the Christian community who have remained faithful to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus. Some in that community, however, appear to be in need of reassurance of their standing before God, and the following section thus has a pastoral and reassuring tone to it.

    3:19 And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence,

    Summary

The prepositional phrase by this refers to the previous verse: by doing these righteous deeds, these expressions of love for one another, Christians assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of our relationship with God. Another way to say this, as we have noted before, is that conduct is the clue to paternity. Here, however, rather than serving as a polemic against the opponents (whose wrong conduct shows they do not have a genuine relationship with God), the same principle can be used to reassure believers – in this case the author’s readers – that they do indeed have this genuine relationship.

    Exegetical Details

This verse and the following two verses are extremely difficult from a structural standpoint. Dodd called the entire section (3:19-24) “a series of loosely connected statements, set forth briefly and baldly, almost as if the author had made notes which he found no time to work up.”469 Even Brown is forced to admit (perhaps with a bit of overstatement),

    We have already seen that the epistolary author is singularly inept in constructing clear sentences, but in these verses he is at his worst. Most commentators kindly call the passage a crux interpretum; less charitably, Loisy, Evangile-Epîtres 559, dubs it “gibberish” (un galimatias). At the least, it offers the prologue competition for the prize in grammatical obscurity.470

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:19. Once again we are confronted with the problem of deciding whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes or to what follows. In the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” it was pointed out that when an explanatory or epexegetical Joti-clause follows, and the Joti-clause is not grammatically unrelated to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), then the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is best understood as referring to what follows. But here there are no less than three Joti-clauses that follow (!), one in 3:19 and two in 3:20, and thus we are faced with the difficulty of trying to determine whether any one of them is related to the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase in 3:19.

It is relatively easy to eliminate the first Joti-clause (the one in 3:19) from consideration, because it is related not to ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) but to the verb gnwsovmeqa (gnwsomeqa, “we will know” [future tense]) as an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what believers will know (“that we are of the truth”). As far as the two Joti-clauses in 3:20 are concerned, it is difficult to see how we as believers could know that we belong to the truth (19a) by means of either, since the first speaks of a situation where the subjects are under self-condemnation (“if our conscience condemns us…”) and the second Joti-clause seems to give a further explanation related to the first (“that God is greater than our conscience…”).

Therefore it seems better to understand the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:19 as referring to the preceding context, and this makes perfectly good sense, because we have understood 3:18 to conclude with a reference to the righteous deeds with which believers are to show their love for one another, deeds which are produced by the truth. It is by doing these deeds, these expressions of love, that believes can assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of their relationship with God. Put another way (once again, but this time in a positive sense), conduct is the clue to paternity.

The use of e[mprosqen (emprosqen, “in [his] presence”) in 3:19 and ejnwvpion (enwpion, “to [him]”) in 3:22. Both of these are improper prepositions, and both express the meaning “before” in the sense of “in the presence of.”471 Some interpreters have tried to see a subtle distinction in meaning between the two in 1 John 3:19 and 3:22, but as Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, e[mprosqen (emprosqen) and ejnwvpion (enwpion), along with a third classical expression ejnantivon (enantion), all refer to being in someone’s presence and are essentially interchangeable.472 There can be little doubt that once more we are seeing the author’s fondness for stylistic variation in terminology at work here.

The meaning of peivsomen (peisomen, “will convince”) in 3:19. The verb peivqw (peiqw) in the active voice (with the exception of the second perfect and pluperfect) means (a) “convince”; (b) “persuade, appeal to”; (c) “win over, strive to please”; or (d) “conciliate, pacify, set at ease/rest.”473 Interpreters are generally divided between meaning (a) and meaning (d) for the verb in the present context, with the third edition of the Bauer lexicon opting for the latter (although it is conveniently pointed out that the text is “not in good order”). In any case the object of the verb peivqw (peiqw) in this context is kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”; translated here by the NET Bible as “conscience”), and this produces further problems because the meaning of kardiva (kardia) will affect one’s understanding of peivsomen (peisomen) here.

The meaning of kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”; translated here by the NET Bible as “conscience”) in 3:19. Further difficulties are raised by the meaning of kardiva (kardia) in 1 John 3:19. Although one can agree that the term generally refers to the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition,” this can be further subdivided into references to (a) “an all-inclusive sense: said of God’s or Christ’s awareness about the inner life of humans”; (b) “inner awareness,” that is, the mind; (c) “the will and its decisions;” (d) “moral decisions, the moral life, of vices and virtues” that is, the part of the individual where moral decisions are made, what we would call the conscience; and (e) “the emotions, wishes, desires,” i.e., the emotions or feelings.474 Thus kardiva (kardia) in 3:19 could refer to either the mind, the will, the emotions, or the conscience, and it is not transparently clear which concept the author has primarily in view.475 In light of the overall context, which seems to discuss the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God (e[mprosqen aujtou' [emprosqen autou, “in his presence” in 3:19 and the mention of parrhsiva [parrhsia, “boldness” or “confidence”] in 3:21) it seems probable that the conscience, that aspect of one’s mind or heart which involves moral choices and the guilt or approval for having made them, is primarily in view here. This in turn leads me to prefer the meaning “convince” for the verb peivqw (see discussion above), since the overall subject seems to be believers’ assurance of their standing before God, especially in the case when (v. 20) their conscience attempts to condemn them (presumably on account of the sin of failing to show love for fellow Christians).

    3:20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.

    Summary

The statement our conscience condemns us refers to a situation when believers condemn themselves because of a guilty conscience concerning sin (probably the specific sin of failing to show love for fellow Christians). Their actions in showing love for fellow believers will assure them that God will accept and forgive them even if their own consciences are guilty.

    Exegetical Details

The force of o{ti ejavn (Joti ean, “that if”) at the beginning of 3:20. The first Joti in 1 John 3:20 can be understood as either causal, “because if our heart condemns us…,” or as epexegetical (explanatory), “that if our heart condemns us….” There are two other instances of the combination o{ti ejavn (Joti ean) in 1 John, 3:2 and 5:14. In 3:2 the Joti clearly introduces an indirect discourse (content) clause following oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”). In 5:14 the Joti is epexegetical to a preceding statement (“and this is the confidence [parrhsiva, parrhsia] that we have before him, that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”). This is analogous to the present situation, and the subject under discussion (the believer’s confidence before God) is also similar.476 It thus seems more likely, by analogy, that the first Joti-clause in 3:20, o{ti ejavn kataginwvskh/ hJmw'n hJ kardiva, (Joti ean kataginwskh Jhmwn Jh kardia) should also be understood as epexegetical to the preceding clause, kaiV e[mprosqen aujtou' peivsomen thVn kardivan (kai emprosqen autou peisomen thn kardian, “and will convince our conscience in his presence”).

The meaning of the verb kataginwvskw (kataginwskw, “condemn”) in 3:20 and 21. In Deut 25:1 LXX this verb means “to condemn” in a context where it is in opposition to dikaiou'n (dikaioun), “to acquit.” In Job 42:6 LXX (Symmachus) and Ezek 16:61 LXX (Symmachus) it is used of self-judgment or self-condemnation, and this usage is also found in the intertestamental literature (Sir 14:2). T. Gad 5:3 describes a person oujc uJp= a[llou kataginwskovmeno ajll= uJpoV th' ijdiva kardiva (ouc Jup allou kataginwskomenos all Jupo ths idias kardias, “condemned not by another but by his own heart”).477 Thus the word has legal or forensic connotations, and in this context refers to the believer’s self-condemnation resulting from a guilty conscience concerning sin.

The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:20. The use of two Joti-clauses in close succession is somewhat awkward, but this is nothing new for the author; and indeed he has twice previously used two Joti-clauses in close proximity in 1 John 3:2 and 3:14. In both those instances we have understood the second Joti as causal, and some interpreters would do so here. Unless one understands both of the Joti-clauses in 3:20 as causal, however (an option we rejected based on the analogy with 5:14),478 the first Joti-clause must be understood as parenthetical in order for the second to be causal. This results in an even more awkward construction.479 It seems most probable that the second Joti-clause in 3:20 should also be understood as epexegetical (explanatory), and resumptive of the first. The resultant meaning may be expressed as follows: “and will convince our conscience in his presence, 3:20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.”

The significance of Gods omniscience as indicated by pavnta (panta, “all things”) at the end of 3:20. What does the author intend to imply by the mention of God’s omniscience (“God…knows all things”) in the final phrase of 1 John 3:20?

(1) Many interpreters have taken this to mean that even if believers stand condemned by their own consciences (because of their failure to love fellow Christians) God, because he knows everything, will be merciful to forgive everything (as far as the believer is concerned). Since the context looks at the believer’s behavior (performing deeds of love toward fellow-believers) as a basis for believers’ assurance that they are indeed God’s children, there is some support for this view.480

(2) Others who hold to a more ‘severe’ interpretation of these verses see God’s omniscience here as as allusion to the fact that, if believers stand condemned by their own consciences (for their failure to love fellow Christians) God, because he knows all things, will be even more strict and demanding in judgment and will condemn them all the more. Given that we have argued above that 1 John 3:18 marks the beginning of another section of pastoral reassurance with the endearment term “little children,” this view does not fit that context very well at all, unless the author truly is hopelessly confused in his argumentation at this point.

(3) A third and more neutral view is also possible: God, because he knows all things, will show no partiality, but will be more fair and neutral in judgment than even believers’ own consciences. He will be merciful to those who (as believers) have demonstrated love for their fellow Christians, and relentless toward those who (typified by the opponents who, as unbelievers, have failed to love their fellow believers) have exercised hatred (rather than love) toward their fellow members of the community. In either case, God will be completely fair and impartial in his judgment.481 There are two passages in the Gospel of John which allude to Jesus’ omniscience (2:24 and 21:17). The first of these (2:24) mentions a negative outcome and the second (21:17) a positive one. Perhaps in light of the different outcomes of divine knowledge in the Fourth Gospel the third (more neutral) view is to be preferred here: God’s omniscience leads to a judgment which in some instances will be negative and in others positive. Having said this, however, one wonders if the author is not assuming here that the genuine Christians in the community to which he writes will not (correctly) see themselves as recipients of a positive judgment because they have shown love for fellow believers, and the opponents as recipients of a negative judgment because they have failed to do so.

    3:21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God,

    Summary

Confidence in this context refers to the Christian’s confidence in asking God for things (see next verse). Because this same word (confidence) occurs in contexts connected to Christ’s parousia (second advent) in 1 John 2:28; 4:17, it may also refer to the Christian’s assurance of a positive outcome at the judgment when Jesus returns. The thought in this verse is completed in v. 22.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of parrhsivan (parrhsian, “confidence”) in 3:21. In the immediate context, the “confidence” described by parrhsivan (parrhsian) here relates to the Christian’s confidence in asking things of God (3:22).482 Because the term also occurs in contexts connected to the parousia (second advent), however (1 John 2:28, 4:17), it may also allude to the Christian’s assurance of a positive outcome at the judgment when Jesus returns. This is made more probable by the mention in the preceding verse of God’s impartial verdict in judgment based on his omniscience.483

On the translation of kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”) as “conscience” see 1 John 3:19.

    3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.

    Summary

Believers who have a clear conscience (v. 21) have confidence (v. 21) that God will answer their prayers because they live lives of obedience (keep his commandments), doing things that are pleasing to him. (Of course in the context of 1 John, God’s commandments consist of believing in Jesus and showing love for one another, as explained in the following verse.) Here the author of 1 John has conditioned the expectation of answered prayer on (a) the believer’s conscience making no accusation against him or her (3:21) and (b) the keeping of God’s commandments (obedience, 3:22b). This is not to say that an obedient lifestyle on the part of the believer merits or guarantees answered prayer. It simply means that, insofar as believers’ consciences make no accusation against them, and they are living in obedience to God’s commandments, their will and God’s will coincide, and thus they may reasonably expect to receive the answers to their requests. This combination of confidence and answered prayer appears also in 1 John 5:14-15.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the kaiv (kai, “and”) at the beginning of 3:22. The kaiv (kai) which begins 3:22 is epexegetical (explanatory), relating a further implication of the “confidence” (parrhsivan, parrhsian) which believers have before God when their conscience does not condemn them. They can ask things of God with the expectation of receiving their requests. The “asking” and “receiving” motif is discussed in the following section.

The background of the theme of asking” (aijtw'men, aitwmen) and receiving” (lambavnomen, lambanomen) in 3:22. This theme is a restatement of similar themes introduced in the Gospel of John by Jesus himself in the Farewell Discourse.484 At numerous points in the Discourse Jesus tells the disciples that whenever they ask the Father for things in his [Jesus’] name, these things will be done or given (John 14:13-16; 15:7, 16; 16:23-26, with one of these formulations, 16:24, using identical terminology to the present verse). In only one instance in the Gospel of John (15:7) is a condition attached to the promise of answered prayer, and it concerns the believer “residing” in Jesus and Jesus’ words “residing” in the believer. Here in 1 John the author has conditioned the expectation of answered prayer on (a) the believer’s conscience having no accusation against him and (b) the keeping of God’s commandments (3:22b). This is not to say that an obedient lifestyle on the part of the believer merits (or guarantees) answered prayer. It implies that, insofar as the believer’s conscience makes no condemnatory accusation against him, and he is living in obedience to God’s commandments (see the following verse), his will and God’s will coincide, and thus the believer may reasonably expect to receive the answer to his requests.485

The meaning of taV ejntolaV aujtou' throu'men (tas entolas autou throumen, “we keep his commandments”) in 3:22 and its relationship to the promise of answered prayer in 3:22a. In a sense it is true that the promise of “receiving” the requests believers have asked from God is conditioned upon the keeping of his commandments. But as explained in the previous section, this does not imply the existence of a situation in which the believer ‘merits’ the answered prayer or in which God is ‘obligated’ to answer such requests. It rather implies the existence of a situation in which God’s will and the believer’s will coincide to such an extent that the petitioner may be assured of receiving the answer to his requests.486 See also the section “The significance of ejavn (ean, “if”) in relation to the keeping of the commandments in 2:3” above, which points out that it is expected that a genuine believer will indeed keep God’s commandments.

The plural form of the noun taV ejntolaV (tas entolas, “commandments”) occurs in the Johannine letters eight times, while the singular occurs ten times. In every instance, however (whether singular or plural), the nature of the “commandment/s” can be summed up in the requirement for believers to show love to one another (cf. 3:23; 4:21; 2 John 5).487

The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22. A reference to God the Father is highly probable in each instance, because in the following verse there is a reference to “his Son Jesus Christ” and this clarifies the previous third person pronouns in 1 John 3:22 and 23 as references to the Father. In 1 John the commandments are consistently associated with God the Father.488

    3:23 Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment.

    Summary

The author now specifies what God’s commandment (now reduced to the singular from the plural of the previous verse) consists of. It has two parts: (a) believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and (b) love one another. Believers showing love for one another is a major theme of this section of 1 John (3:11-5:12).

    Exegetical Details

The referent(s) of the two occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:23. As mentioned in the previous section, the reference in the present verse to “his Son Jesus Christ” (tou' uiJou' aujtou' =Ihsou' Cristou', tou Juiou autou Ihsou Cristou) makes it clear that the referent of both the third person pronouns in v. 23 is God the Father.

The force of the i{na (Jina) in 3:23. This verse begins with the phrase kaiV au{th ejstiVn (kai Jauth estin, “now this is”; cf. the similar phrase in 1 John 1:5 and 3:11), which is explained by the following Jina-clause, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ….” The i{na thus introduces a clause which is epexegetical (explanatory) or appositional. By analogy the similar phrase in 3:11 is also followed by an epexegetical Jina-clause and the phrase in 1:5 by an epexegetical Joti-clause. Thus the “commandment” from God that the author refers to here is the commandment to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another. This is indicated in the NET Bible translation by a colon preceding the Jina-clause.

The meaning of the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw) + dative in 3:23 and its relationship to other Johannine usages of pisteuvw (pisteuw). Belief, for the author, is not mere assent or accepting certain information as true. The explanatory Jina-clause “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ” is not too far removed in meaning from the verb “confess” (oJmologevw, Jomologew) in 2:23 (“the person who confesses the Son”); similar formulaic statements are found in 4:2-3, 15.489 But just as in the similar statements in the Fourth Gospel (John 2:11; 4:39; 7:31; 12:11) the specific content of the confession (or belief) is also important, as the author makes clear elsewhere – particularly in light of the debate over orthodox christology with the secessionist opponents. The readers are commanded to believe in Jesus as Christ (2:22; 5:1), as Son (2:23), as Son of God (4:15; 5:5), and as Christ incarnate (“come in the flesh,” 4:2; 2 John 7). The fact that the author regards belief as something “commanded” here is also in line with the description of faith as a “work” in John 6:29 (cf. John 16:27).490

Some interpreters attach special significance to certain Johannine constructions with the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw, “I believe”). In particular there is a tendency to insist that pisteuvw + eij (pisteuw + eis) consistently indicates a higher level of belief, trust, or committment than, for example, pisteuvw (pisteuw) followed by the simple dative.491 When one surveys the total Johannine usage of the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw), certain patterns of frequency of usage do emerge. But when one compares contexts like John 3:36 and 5:24 it seems obvious that there is no difference between pisteuvw + eij (pisteuw + eis) and pisteuvw (pisteuw) followed by the simple dative. Likewise, in 1 John 5:10 the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw) occurs three times, twice with eij (eis) and once with the simple dative, and there does not seem to be any distinction in force or quality. Thus the faith the author has in view here does not seem to be qualitatively anything less than trust in and committment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God.492

The significance of the mention of tw'/ ojnovmati (tw onomati, “in the name”) in 3:23. The author’s construction with the dative here is unique. Elsewhere in the Johannine corpus eij (eis, “in”) with the accusative toV o[noma (to onoma, “the name”) is used, as in 1 John 5:13 (cf. John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18); see also 1 John 4:16; 5:10, and (using o{ti [Joti, “that”] in place of eij) 5:1, 5. As the Son of God, Jesus bears the divine Name (cf. John 20:28). As Bultmann correctly observes, believing “in the name of his (God’s) Son Jesus Christ” here amounts to essentially the same thing as believing “in the Son of God” in 1 John 5:10.493 Belief in the Son makes people God’s children, and as such they are under the protection of the Name (cf. John 17:11-12). They are also able to ask for things in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), and although the author of 1 John does not focus on that aspect here, he was concerned in the previous verse with the believer asking and receiving things from God. The wording of 3:23 may suggest a formulaic confession aimed at the secessionist opponents, who have already been attacked for their failure to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.494

The (understood) subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) in 3:23b. As mentioned in previous sections,495 the author of 1 John repeatedly attributes the commandments given to believers as given by God the Father, even though in John 13:34-35 it was Jesus who gave his disciples the commandment to love one another. 2 John 4-5 also attributes the commandment to love one another directly to the Father. Thus it seems clear that God the Father is the subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) here in 3:23.496

    3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.

    Summary

Here the person who keeps his commandments clearly refers to the genuine believer, the faithful member of the community to whom the author is writing (the previous verse defines what the commandment is). Such a person is in a mutual and reciprocal relationship with God (resides in God, and God in him). The assurance (by this we know) of this mutual relationship between God and the believer is God’s Spirit (the Spirit he has given us). The believer’s assurance of a genuine relationship with God in 1 John is thus based on three things: (a) believing in Jesus Christ (3:23a); (b) loving one another (3:23b); and (c) the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit (3:24b).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of oJ thrw'n (Jo thrwn, “the person who keeps”) in 3:24. The author has repeatedly used the definite article oJ (Jo) + the participle to refer to genuine believers on the one hand and the secessionist opponents on the other.497 Here “the person who keeps his (i.e., God’s) commandments” clearly refers to the genuine believer, the faithful member of the Christian community to which the author is writing.

The referent of the pronouns aujtou' (autou, “his”), the first aujtw'/ (autw, literally “in him”; translated by the NET Bible as “in God”), and aujtov (autos, literally “he”; translated by the NET Bible as “God”) in 3:24. Once again, all of the third person pronouns in 3:24 are best understood as referring to God the Father.498

The meaning of the verb mevnw (menw [“I reside”], used twice) in 3:24. The verb here refers to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer, as also in 1 John 2:6, 4:12, 13 (2x), 15 (2x), and 16 (2x). The present verse implies that this is a mutual and reciprocal relationship.499 Previously the author has introduced the concept of believers residing in God and/or Jesus in 1 John 2:5-6, 24, 27-28, and 3:6 (cf. also 5:20). The author also mentions God residing in the believer in 4:12 (cf. 2:14; 3:9). Here, however, the ideas are combined and mutual for the first time in the letter (cf. later references in 4:13, 15, 16).500

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:24. Once again there is the (by now familiar) question of whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ refers to what precedes or to what follows. In this case, the following phrase ejk tou' pneuvmato…(ek tou pneumatos, “by the Spirit…”) explains the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, and so it is best to understand the phrase as referring to what follows.501 This is confirmed by the parallel at 4:13.

The (understood) subject of e[dwken (edwken, “he has given”) in 3:24. Who is the one who has given the Spirit, Jesus or God the Father?502 An almost identical phrase occurs in 1 John 4:13:By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.” The preceding verse, 4:12, makes it clear that the reference in 4:13 is to God the Father. Thus it seems by analogy that we should consider God the Father to be the subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken) here in 3:24.503

The Spirit’s role in the believer’s assurance in 3:24. Here in v. 24 is the first explicit reference to the Spirit in 1 John, although the “anointing” mentioned in 2:20, 27 is best understood as a reference to the Spirit as well. After this there will be additional references to the Spirit in 1 John, all more or less explicit (4:2, 13; 5:6, 8; cf. also 4:6). Appeal to the Spirit as proof of God’s presence residing in the believer may appear at first subjective, but it is very important to note (especially in light of the debate over christology with the secessionist opponents, who apparently were claiming to be receiving new revelation from the Spirit concerning who Jesus was) that the ground of assurance is not based on some revelation or other by the indwelling Spirit, but on the fact of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer. No content of any “message of reassurance” from the Spirit is mentioned or alluded to here.504 Second, as Smalley notes, “the Spirit, according to John, manifests himself objectively in the life and conduct of the believer, inspiring a true confession of Jesus (4:1-3) and enabling his followers to act righteously (cf. 2:29) and lovingly (cf. 4:12-13).”505


427 See the section “Structure and Purpose of 1 John” above.

428 On the translation of ajggeliva (angelia) as “gospel message” see Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 87.

429 BDF §456(1). BDAG 732 s.v. o{ti 4.b states, “The subordination is oft. so loose that the transl. for recommends itself (B-D-F §456, 1; Rob. 962f). Naturally the line betw. the two groups cannot be drawn with certainty.”

430 See the section below, “The relationship of 3:11 to 1:5,” for further discussion.

431 For further discussion of the phrase see the sections “The meaning of ajrchv (arch, “beginning”) in 1:1a” and “The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 2:7 and its relationship to the same phrase in 1 John 1:1” above.

432 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 182.

433 Brown says of the opening clause of 1 John 3:11, “The clause itself is virtually a copy of 1:5” (The Epistles of John, 440). He goes on a few lines later to point out, “In 1:5 the perfect tense of the verb ‘to hear’ was used; here the tense is aorist. This is a real challenge to those who would see a precise theological implication in such variations; for certainly the author, despite his use of the aorist here, means a past hearing that lasts into the present (the meaning a perfect should have).”

434 See the section “The meaning of ajggeliva (angelia, “[gospel] message”) in 1:5” above.

435 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 82.

436 Smalley noted how strange this is in a work of fundamentally Judeo-Christian background with its great similarity to the Fourth Gospel, which makes constant allusion to the OT (1, 2, 3 John, 183-84). However, it is possible that in the doctrinal dispute with the secessionist opponents confronted by the author, appeal to the OT would not have been convincing (cf. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 97-98).

437 The source of Cain’s character and behavior are specified; cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 92.

438 T. Benj. 7:5 warns, “those who are like Cain in envy and hatred of brethren shall be punished with the same judgment.” In a similar way Philo stated with sarcasm, “if any one accuses you of impiety, make your defense with a good courage, saying that you have been brought up very admirably by your guide and teacher, Cain” (On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 11 (38). Josephus characterized Abel as righteous but Cain as evil: “Abel, the younger, was a lover of righteousness, and…excelled in virtue…But Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting” (Antiquities 1.2.1 [1.53]). In addition to the intertestamental literature Cain also appears elsewhere in the NT (Heb 11:4; Jude 11; indirectly in Matt 23:35 = Luke 11:51; Heb 12:24).

439 Schnackenburg pointed out that the use of the term might have been suggested by the brutal killing of Christians in the earliest persecutions under Domitian (The Johannine Epistles, 179) although this presumes a somewhat later date for the letter.

440 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 184.

441 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 54, n. 47.

442 So Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 88-89. Marshall, on the other hand, takes the world’s hatred here as a future possibility (The Epistles of John, 190, n. 9). If we understand the reference to the “world” here as a reference to the secessionist opponents, a future reference to the world’s hatred seems less likely since the schism has already taken place (cf. 2:18-19) and its effects are being felt in the community addressed by the author even as he writes. Thus I prefer to see the hatred here as something currently in progress rather than something hypothetically possible in the future.

443 As Smalley states, “The verb oi[damen here, with oi[date (“you know”) in v 15, indicates John’s appeal to the common awareness of truth among the members of his church (cf. v 5)” (1, 2, 3 John, 188).

444 Brown suggests another possibility for the alternation between the two verbs for knowledge in 1 John: “The verb ‘know’ is eidenai (oida), and there is the usual speculation that it is used rather than ginwskein because the knowledge here is more emphatic or experiential…But any emphasis here comes from the pronoun; and oidamen, ‘we know,’ may simply be the Community’s set formulation for reliable tradition” (The Epistles of John, 445).

445 BDAG 638 s.v. metabaivnw 1.a and 2, with 2 being a figurative extension of meaning, “to change from one state or condition to another state, pass, pass on.”

446 It is important to note that the second Joti-clause in 1 John 3:14 is related to oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”), giving the reason for the knowledge, rather than being related to metabebhvkamen (metabebhkamen, “crossed over”), giving the reason for the transfer from death to life (as Marshall appears to state, The Epistles of John, 191, n. 11). To take the second Joti-clause in this sense (“we have crossed over…because we love”) would make one’s salvation contingent on whether or not one loved, which is perilously close to a doctrine of salvation by works, as Smalley points out (1, 2, 3 John, 189). As Houlden also observes, Christian love is the consequence of salvation rather than its presupposition (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 98). Brown simply notes, “One might argue that the author has phrased himself ambiguously to cover both interpretations: love both as sign and cause of life. More realistically, he may have phrased his sentence ambiguously because he never asked himself this kind of question” (The Epistles of John, 446).

447 On the term “death” (qavnato, qanatos) here as spiritual death, compare 3:14b and 5:16-17; see also W. Schmithals, NIDNTT 1:439-40.

448 See the section “The concept of “walking in the darkness” in 2:11 and its relationship to the similar concept in 1:6” above.

449 The involvement of the devil in the murder of Abel is not directly mentioned in the Genesis account, but is elaborated in the intertestamental literature. The pseudepigraphal Apocalypse of Abraham 24:5 states: “I saw Adam, and Eve existing with him, and with them the cunning Adversary, and Cain who acted lawlessly through the Adversary, and the slaughtered Abel, (and) the destruction brought and caused upon him through the lawless one.” The translation is from G. H. Box, ed., The Apocalypse of Abraham (London: SPCK; New York: Macmillan, 1919), 71-72.

450 There are some indications in rabbinic literature that Cain was not considered to be the son of Adam, but the offspring of Eve after she had sexual relations with Sammael (variously identified as the angel of death and the leader of all satans). The tradition is found in Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 21 and also in Targum Pseudo- Jonathan on Gen 4:1-2. See further A. F. J. Klijn, Seth in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Literature (NovTSup 46; Leiden: Brill, 1977) 4-10. Of course it is difficult to prove that these traditions predate the NT. Nevertheless, the selection of Cain by the author of 1 John as the model for those who hate brethren is intriguing in light of these traditions, especially since the author states in 1 John 3:12 that Cain “was of the evil one.”

451 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 191; Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 82.

452 Cf. Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 260-61. For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see the discussion at 1 John 2:6. On “eternal life” as a quality of spiritual life made available to the believer now through Christ (rather than confined to the future), cf. 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 5:11, 13, 20. Ultimately, as the author declares in 5:20, this life is synonymous with Jesus Christ himself.

453 See the discussion of the opponents above in the section “The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:14.”

454 See the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” above for a discussion of the possible meanings of this phrase in 1 John. Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 114) saw the phrase as recapitulating what had gone before (the contrast between disobedient hatred and obedient love), but the structural pattern discussed above and at 2:3 strongly suggests that the reference is to what follows.

455 See the section “The referent of ejkei'no in 2:6” for a discussion of this issue.

456 The same verb, tivqhmi (tiqhmi), is used in John 13:4 to describe Jesus laying aside his outer garments before washing the disciples’ feet. On the one hand this suggests the voluntary nature of the action involved, which would parallel the voluntary nature of Jesus’ sacrifice in the passages listed above. On the other hand, it suggests that the imagery behind the footwashing episode is linked to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, a connection suggested by other contextual features in John 13 as well (e.g., the phrase eij tevlo [eis telos] in John 13:1 seen in relation to tetevlestai [tetelestai] in John 19:28, 30).

457 For further discussion on the description of the atonement in the Fourth Gospel, see Stephen S. Smalley, John: Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 225-26.

458 C. Maurer, TDNT 8:155-56.

459 The idea of “imitating Christ” found in 1 John 3:16 occurs elsewhere in 1 John (see 2:6, 29; 3:2, 3, 7; 4:17). It is is also found in Paul (cf. 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 2:5-8; 1 Thess 1:6; 1 Tim 6:13-14) and in other NT writers (e.g., Heb 12:2-3; 1 Pet 2:21).

460 BDAG 177 s.v. bivo 2, which gives the contextual gloss “worldly goods” for the use in this verse.

461 So Marshall, The Epistles of John, 194, n. 20, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 196.

462 For further details see H. Köster, TDNT 7:548-59, and H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT 2:599-601.

463 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

464 This is not to say that such a person cannot claim to be a Christian – note 1 John 2:4: “The one who says ‘I have come to know God’ and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.” Here again we are dealing with the major problem underlying the entire letter: the opponents are claiming to be in relationship with God, but are refusing to share material assistance with their fellow members of the Christian community in need, and this (for the author) constitutes conclusive proof that the opponents’ profession to know God (or, as here, to have God’s love residing in them) must be false. As elsewhere in 1 John, conduct becomes the clue to paternity, and speaks louder than words.

465 See the discussion of this phrase in the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above.

466 Brown summarizes, “The person described in 17abc is blocking the movement of divine love, which would lead him to treat his brother as Christ treated us, so divine love does not function in such a person” (The Epistles of John, 450).

467 Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 266.

468 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 199.

469 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 87.

470 Brown, The Epistles of John, 453.

471 BDAG 325 s.v. e[mprosqen 1.b.b and 342 s.v. ejnantivon 2.b.

472 BDF §214(6). However, BDAG 342 s.v. ejnantivon classifies the meaning in 1 John 3:22 under 3, “pert. to exposure to value judgment, in the opinion/judgment of,” a metaphorical extension of the notion of presence.

473 BDAG 791 s.v. peivqw 1.a, b, c, d.

474 BDAG 508 s.v. kardiva l.b.a, b, g, d, e.

475 The term kardiva (kardia) occurs only in this passage in the letters of John. On the meaning see further H.-C. Hahn, NIDNTT 1:349; T. Sorg, NIDNTT 2:180-84; cf. also Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 94.

476 Compare 1 John 3:21-22.

477 The Testament of Gad is one of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, pseudepigraphal works of Jewish intertestamental literature.

478 See the discussion in the section “The force of o{ti ejavn (Joti ean, “that if”) at the beginning of 3:20” above.

479 Thus producing the following: “and will convince our conscience in his presence 3:20 (that if our conscience condemns us), because God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.”

480 Cf. Brooke, who pointed out that the author was not concerned to “strike terror” into the hearts of the members of his congregation (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 100).

481 Cf. Marshall, who noted that “a just verdict” could be reached concerning the believer on this basis (The Epistles of John, 198, n. 7).

482 This “confidence” amounts to a “freedom to speak” before God, cf. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 93; note also the allusion to making requests of God in prayer in v. 22.

483 It goes without saying here that the emphasis on the parousia (second advent) in 1 John 2:28, 3:21, and 4:17, with implications of a future judgment of Christians, is different from the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, which with its emphasis on realized eschatology sees Christians as not coming into judgment (John 3:18) and already having passed from death to life (5:24).

484 More commonly known as the “Upper Room Discourse,” but it is preferable to label it by its literary genre (a farewell discourse after the pattern found in the OT) rather than by the location where it took place.

485 More general statements in the NT about answered prayer for the believer may be found in Matt 7:7-8 (= Luke 11:9); Matt 18:19; Mark 11:24; Jas 1:5.

486 In other words, God answers believers’ prayers because they regularly “keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.” There is therefore an objective ethical reason for God’s answering prayer – it does not depend automatically on the subjective ground of a believer’s clear conscience (cf. Stott, The Epistles of John, 149).

487 Houlden saw the interchange between singular and plural as an indication that the author was not interested in ethical rules or “moral complexities” (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 102-103), but as Smalley pointed out, theology and ethics are closely related in the letters of John, and the author was well aware that “love for fellow believers” required practical expression in specific moral situations like the one described in 3:16-17 (1, 2, 3 John, 206).

488 See the section “The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:3” above for further discussion.

489 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 59.

490 For further discussion of the concept of “faith” in the Johannine corpus see O. Michel, NIDNTT 1:602-603.

491 Cf. for example Brooke, who takes the construction with the dative to mean “conviction of the truth of a statement” whereas the construction with eij (eis) means “devotion to a person” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 104-105); cf. also Marshall, The Epistles of John, 201, n. 14, and M. J. Harris, NIDNTT 3:1212-13.

492 Brown sees 1 John 3:23 as significant evidence against distinctions between different constructions with pisteuvw (pisteuw) in the Johannine literature: “Although the author uses the dative in the present verse, it is unbelievable that he means anything other than total commitment since he is dealing with the basic commandment that sums up the gospel” (The Epistles of John, 463).

493 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 59.

494 See the sections “The referent of oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths, “the liar”) in 2:22” and “The meaning of the phrase toVn patevra e[cei (ton patera ecei, “have the Father”) in 2:23” above.

495 See “The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:3” and “The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22” above.

496 So Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 273. Smalley states, “Unless John is once more being consciously ambivalent (and this is not impossible), the structure and thought of the v as a whole probably demands that God should be understood here as the author of the love command” (1, 2, 3 John, 209).

497 See the section “The participial phrase oJ misw'n (Jo miswn, “the one who hates”) in 2:11 and its relationship to the phrase oJ ajgapw'n (Jo agapwn, “the one who loves”) in 2:10” above.

498 See the sections “The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22” and “The (understood) subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) in 3:23b” above.

499 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

500 In 2:27 the “anointing” (which is probably best understood as a reference to the Holy Spirit) is said to reside in believers, and believers are said to “reside in him” (which is probably best understood as a reference to Jesus Christ). While the idea of mutuality is not completely developed in 2:27, it can be seen as a step in the direction of the full-fledged reciprocal relationship between the believer and God expressed here. For further details see the notes on 1 John 2:27. On the similar concept of “mutual residing” as expressed by Paul, see Marshall, The Epistles of John, 202, n. 16, and M. J. Harris, NIDNTT 3:1190-93. On the relationship between the theology of John and Paul at this point, see Stephen S. Smalley, “The Christ-Christian Relationship in Paul and John,” in Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce, ed. D. A. Hagner and M. J. Harris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Exeter: Paternoster, 1980), 97-99.

501 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

502 Brown notes that in the Gospel of John both God and Christ can send or give the Spirit, as shown by comparing John 14:16 and 16:17 (The Epistles of John, 465).

503 Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 212) refers to the verb e[dwken (edwken) in 3:24 as a perfect, when in reality the form is aorist. Perhaps this oversight occurred because the verb is frequently translated into English as a perfect tense in this verse, as a result of tense sequencing requirements in English.

504 Neither is it likely that the sacraments (baptism and the eucharist) are alluded to here either, as suggested by Schnackenburg (The Johannine Epistles, 195). The “objective” nature of the Spirit’s role in assuring believers does not, for the author, depend on an external administration of a sacrament, but on the changed lifestyle (especially in the demonstration of love toward fellow believers) evidenced as a result of possession of the Spirit.

505 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 212.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)