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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 4:7-5:4a

    Structure

This section contains a number of subsections, but not all of them are readily agreed on by interpreters. Both 1 John 4:7 and 4:11 begin with the author addressing the readers as =agaphtoiv (agaphtoi, “dear friends”), so 4:7-10 appears to be a discrete unit, with 4:11 marking the beginning of another unit. The ending of the second subsection and the remaining subsections of the unit are far from clear, however. Because of the importance that the theme “God is love” has for the second half of the letter, I am inclined to end the second subdivision with 4:16a, and begin the third subsection with the author’s declaration in 4:16b, “God is love” (a theme resumed from 4:8). A likely candidate for the beginning of the fourth (and final) subsection is the author’s hypothetically-worded statement aimed at the opponents in 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates his fellow Christian…,” which with its introductory formula ejavn ti ei[ph/ (ean tis eiph, “if anyone says”) is reminiscent of 1:6, 8, and 10. This is less clear as a subdivision, however, and it is easy to see how 4:19 could fit with what precedes or with what follows; it is obviously another of the author’s “hinge” verses which mark the transition from one thought to another, but it is not entirely clear to which subsection it should be assigned.

    4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.

    Summary

The author, addressing his readers as Dear friends, now returns to the theme of loving one another, the major theme of the second half of the letter. By everyone who loves, the author means those who love fellow Christians sacrifically, as Jesus loved us (1 John 3:16).

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “because”) in 4:7. This Joti is causal, giving the reason why the readers, as believers, ought to love one another: because love comes from God.546 The statement implies that love (the genuine love that is the topic of discussion here) has its source in God.547 The next clause, introduced by the conjunction kaiv (kai, “and”), does not give a second reason (i.e., is not related to the Joti-clause), but introduces a second and additional thought: everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.

The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo, “everyone who”) + participle construction in 4:7. As in 1 John 2:23 and 3:4, the author uses pa' (pas) with the present articular participle as a generalization to describe a category of people.548 From the author’s antithetical (“either/or”) perspective, which tends to see things in terms of polar opposites, the use of such a generalization presents a way of categorizing the opponents on the one hand and the readers, whom the author regards as genuine Christians, on the other. “Everyone who loves” refers to all genuine Christians, who give evidence by their love for one another that they have indeed been fathered by God and are thus God’s children. It is clear from 1 John 3:23 that the command to show love to fellow Christians is predicated upon belief in Jesus Christ, so that love is the effect rather than the cause of the spiritual birth spoken of here.549 The opposite situation is described in the following verse, 4:8, where (although pa' [pas, “everyone”] is omitted) it is clear that a contrast is intended.550

The meaning of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “I beget, I father”) in 4:7. The verb gennavw (gennaw) in this context means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The bold imagery the author uses is that of the male parent who fathers children.551 We have encountered this imagery before in 1 John 3:9 using the same verb as here.

    4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    Summary

Once again, one’s behavior toward fellow Christians serves as an indication for the author whether or not one has come to know God. Since God is love, those who truly know him will reflect that love toward fellow members of the Christian community. Compare 1 John 3:17.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of oJ mhV ajgapw'n (Jo mh agapwn, “the person who does not love”) in 4:8. This construction is the opposite of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 4:7b.552 There the phrase pa' oJ ajgapw'n (pas Jo agapwn, “everyone who loves”) was a generalization referring to every genuine Christian: everyone who loves his fellow Christian gives evidence by his love for his fellow believers that he has indeed been fathered by God and is thus God’s child. In contrast, the person who does not love (oJ mhV ajgapw'n, Jo mh agapwn, in 4:8) does not know God, and thus is not really a genuine believer, no matter what he or she might claim. This is in context most likely a reference to the opponents, who (in the author’s opinion) have demonstrated by their failure to love their fellow believers that they are not genuine Christians. The only specific moral fault the author ever charges his opponents with in the letter is failure to show love for fellow Christians when they are in need (1 John 3:17).

The meaning of the famous statement in 4:8, God is love.” The author proclaims in 4:8 oJ qeoV ajgavph ejstivn (Jo qeos agaph estin, “God is love”), but from a grammatical standpoint this is not a proposition in which subject and predicate nominative are interchangeable (“God is love” does not equal “love is God”). The predicate noun is anarthrous, as it is in two other Johannine formulas describing God, “God is light” in 1 John 1:5 and “God is Spirit” in John 4:24. The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here. C. H. Dodd explained the difference between saying “God is love” and merely “God loves” this way:

    The latter statement might stand alongside other statements, such as ‘God creates,’ ‘God rules,’ ‘God judges’; that is to say, it means that love is one of His activities. But to say ‘God is love’ implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is—to love. The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching.553

Because this is so, because all God’s activity is loving activity and involves the expression of love, the author of 1 John can rightly conclude that the person who does not love must not know God. If they did, they would act in love, because all God’s activity is loving activity. Once more, as so often in 1 John, conduct is the clue to paternity.

    4:9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him.

    Summary

God’s love is revealed in believers through his giving of his Son (compare John 3:16). It is through the Son that believers may have life.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:9. Once again there is the problem of determining whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes or to what follows. This is the first of five uses of the phrase in the present section: 1 John 4:9, 10, 13, 17, and 5:2. In this case (as also in the next two instances) the construction fits category (1) as explained in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”554 There is a Joti-clause following which is related and which explains (i.e., which is epexegetical to) the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw). Thus the meaning here is, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him.”

The force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 4:9. In terms of syntax the force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou) may be objective, subjective, or both.555 In this case the epexegetical Joti-clause which follows makes it clear that this is a subjective genitive, emphasizing God’s love for us rather than our love for God, because it describes God’s action in sending his Son into the world.

The meaning of the phrase ejn hJmi'n (en Jhmin, “in us”) in 4:9. This phrase is best understood as the equivalent of a dative of sphere, but this description does not specify where the love of God is revealed with regard to believers: “in our midst” (i.e., among us) or “within us” (i.e., internally within believers).556 The latter is more likely, because in the context the concept of God’s indwelling of the believer is mentioned in 4:12: “God resides in us….”

The meaning of monogenh' (monogenhs, “one and only”) in 4:9. Although this Greek word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship.557 The word in Greek was used of an only child, either a son (Luke 7:12; 9:38) or a daughter (Luke 8:42). It was also used of something unique (the only one of its kind) such as the mythological bird known as the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2).558 From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 1.222) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus alone in the Johannine literature of the New Testament.559 While all Christians are children of God (tevkna qeou', tekna qeou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 4:9. The word kovsmo (kosmos) is used both neutrally and negatively in the Johannine literature.560 In formulas like this one, which echoes John 3:16 and speaks of God sending his Son to be the Savior of the world, the term is used in a neutral sense rather than a negative one (cf. the use in 1 John 4:14 where it is explicitly stated that “the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world”).561

    4:10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

    Summary

The author reminds his readers that real love comes from God, and we cannot love God except that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The initiative in this outreach lies with God.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “in this”) at the beginning of 4:10. Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining the referent of this phrase. This use, like the one in the previous verse, fits category (1) of the uses of ejn touvtw/ in 1 John as described earlier.562 There are two Joti-clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical (explanatory) to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) and explain what the love of God consists of: first, stated negatively, “not that we have loved God,” and then positively, “but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”563 The two Joti-clauses reinforce each other.564

The meaning of iJlasmov (Jilasmos, “atoning sacrifice”) in 4:10. Inherent in the meaning of this Greek word is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent.565 God’s love for us is expressed in his sending his Son to be the propitiation (the propitiatory sacrifice) for our sins on the cross.566 This is an indirect way for the author to allude to one of the main points of his controversy with the opponents: the significance for believers’ salvation of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including especially his sacrificial death on the cross.567 The opponents apparently saw little salvific significance in Jesus’ earthly career, including his death; as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, what Jesus did during his incarnation was absolutely indispensable.

The relationship of the two Joti-clauses in 4:10 to the authors argument. As explained above in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “in this”) at the beginning of 4:10,” the two Joti-clauses are epexegetical to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) which begins the verse. What is important (as far as the author is concerned) is not whether we love God (or say that we love God – a claim of the opponents is probably behind this), but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning (propitiatory) sacrifice which removes believers’ sins. This latter point is similar to the point made in 2:2 and is at the heart of the author’s dispute with the opponents, because they were apparently denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.568

    4:11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another.

    Summary

Once more the author of 1 John addresses his readers as Dear friends.569 If God took the initiative in so loving us, we also ought to take the initiative in showing love for one another. God’s example of self-giving, sacrificial love – the giving of his own Son – serves as the model for believers to follow in loving one another.

    Exegetical Details

The conditional sentence in 4:11. This is a first-class conditional sentence with eij (ei, “if”) + aorist indicative in the protasis. Reality is assumed for the sake of argument with a first-class condition,570 and the author here assumes the reality of the protasis, which his readers, as genuine believers, would also be expected to agree with: assuming that God has loved believers in this way, it follows that believers ought to love one another. God’s act of love in sending his Son into the world to be the atoning (propitiatory) sacrifice for our sins ought to motivate us as believers to love one another in a similar sacrificial fashion. The author has made the same point already in 1 John 3:16, so this is not a new assertion in the context of 1 John. Nevertheless, the protasis of the conditional sentence here bears a strong resemblance to John 3:16 as well, especially with the use of o{utw (Joutws, “so,” “in this way”).

The significance of the statement in the apodosis, we also ought to love one another.” We might have expected the author to say that the proper response to God’s love for believers (as shown in the giving of his Son, v. 10) is for believers to love God in return. Such reciprocity may be implied, but the author emphasizes instead the necessity of believers showing love for one another. In the previous paragraph we mentioned that the author has already pointed out to his readers that Jesus, in light of his sacrificial love for them demonstrated in his death on the cross, set an example for believers to follow – an example of sacrificial love for one another. Just as in 1 John 3:16 and 2:6, the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love puts the Christian under obligation to love one’s fellow Christian in the same way.571 But this is just what the opponents were not doing: in 3:17 the author charged them with refusing to love their fellow members of the community by their withholding of needed material assistance. Thus, by their failure to love their fellow members of the Christian community sacrificially according to the example set by Jesus, the opponents have demonstrated again the falsity of their claims to love God and to know God (cf. 2:9).

The author’s use of the verb ojfeivlomen (ofeilomen, “we ought”) here indicates that he views mutual love on the part of Christians as a duty. As Dodd observed, the command for Christians to love one another is not an optional extra.572 Instead, it is an integral part of normative Christian experience and cannot be dispensed with.573

    4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Summary

Since no one has seen God at any time, how is it possible for believers to know that God resides in them? When believers love one another sacrificially the way God loved us (1 John 4:10) and Christ loved us (1 John 3:16) we have assurance that God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the authors claim in 4:12, no one has seen God at any time.” This claim is made three times in the Gospel of John (1:18, 5:37, and 6:46) and is repeated in 1 John 4:20.574 In spite of this in John 14:9 Jesus seemed to contradict this when he told his disciples, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father.” This is said in light of Jesus’ revelation to the disciples of who the Father is and what he is like through Jesus’ own self-revelation during his earthly life and ministry. But it is still true that no human being has ever seen God as God is; Jesus’ revelation of the Father in his own life and actions is not exactly the same as seeing God himself. According to 1 John 3:2 the ability to see God (just as he is) is promised to believers as something still future.575 The strength of the author’s denial here that anyone has yet seen God may well be a polemic response to a direct claim of the opponents to have ‘seen’ God; other claims of the opponents are alluded to in 4:8a (to have ‘known’ God) and 4:10a (to have ‘loved’ God).576 This is further supported by the author’s previous statements in 3:6, where he linked the concepts of ‘seeing’ God and ‘knowing’ God together.577

The meaning of the phrase God resides (mevnei, menei) in us in 4:12. This is a reference to the permanent relationship which God has with the believer. Here it refers specifically to God’s indwelling of the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by 4:13b.578 The author does not mean here that God’s indwelling of believers (or the completion of his love in believers, see the following phrase) is contingent on the love of Christians. Rather, Christians love because God resides in them, not the reverse.579

The meaning of the phrase his [Gods] love is perfected (teteleiwmevnh ejstivn, teteleiwmenh estin) in us in 4:12. First it is necessary to decide whether the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his,” referring to God) is subjective (= God’s love for us) or objective (= our love for God). A subjective genitive, stressing God’s love for us, appears more likely here, because the immediate context, 4:11a, speaks of believers as the objects of God’s love (“if God so loved us”).580 The entire phrase “his love is perfected in us” then refers to what happens when believers love one another (note the protasis of the conditional sentence in 4:12, “if we love one another”). The love that comes from God, the love that he has for us, reaches perfection in our love for others, which is what God wants and what believers are commanded to do (cf. 3:23b).581

    4:13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.

    Summary

The first ground of assurance (we know) mentioned by the author is the indwelling Holy Spirit (he has given us of his Spirit). Compare the similar statement in 1 John 3:24b. The phrase we reside in God and he in us refers to the mutual relationship between God and the Christian.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:13. Again the referent of the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is a problem. There are two Joti-clauses which follow. The first is an indirect discourse clause related to the verb ginwvskomen (ginwskomen, “we know”) and giving the content of what believers know: “that we reside in God and he in us.”582 The second Joti-clause is either (1) epexegetical or explanatory to the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, explaining how believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “in that he has given us of his Spirit,” or (2) causal following the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, explaining the reason why believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “because he has given us of his Spirit.”583 Most interpreters seem to prefer the causal sense based on the way they translate the phrase, even if their explanation is somewhat looser: Marshall translates the second Joti-clause “because” but then states, “Our knowledge that we have this relationship with God arises from the fact that he has given us a share in the Spirit.”584 In any case, this occurrence of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) fits category (1) as described in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”585 According to the author of 1 John, the Father’s giving of the Holy Spirit to indwell the Christian is one means of providing assurance to the Christian of the genuineness of his/her relationship to God. This was also stated in 1 John 3:24b in essentially identical terms.

The meaning of the phrase ejk tou' pneuvmato aujtou' (ek tou pneumatos autou, “of his Spirit”) in 4:13. As mentioned in the previous section, it is the Father’s giving of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer which provides assurance to the believer of his or her relationship to God. The genitive here, like the phrase in 1 John 3:24, probably reflects a partitive nuance, so that the author portrays God as ‘apportioning’ his Spirit to individual believers.586 This leads to the important observation that the author is not particularly interested in emphasizing the ongoing interior witness of the Holy Spirit (which is what the passage is often understood to mean) but is emphasizing the fact that God has given his Spirit to believers, and it is this fact that gives believers assurance of their relationship to God.587 In other words, it is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, rather than some ongoing interior testimony of the Holy Spirit within the believer, which is the primary source of the believer’s assurance according to this passage.

    4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

    Summary

Possession of God’s Spirit (v. 13) leads one to testify to what God the Father has done through his Son, who was sent to be the Savior of the world.588 This expression recalls the testimony of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, which led to the same confession about Jesus by the Samaritans (John 4:42).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:14. In the section “The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, ‘we’) in 4:6” above we discussed whether the author’s use of the first person plural pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis) was an exclusive use, in which the author wished to set himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses in contrast to the readers, or an inclusive use, by which the author intended to include with himself the readers of the letter and ultimately with all genuine Christians. The same question can be raised here. This could be an exclusive use of the pronoun referring specifically to the author and the company of apostolic eyewitnesses to which he belongs, since the language used here (teqeavmeqa kaiV marturou'men, teqeameqa kai marturoumen, “we have seen and testify”) recalls the emphasis on the apostolic eyewitness testimony in the prologue (1:1-4).589 But the author appears to be speaking of more than physical sight here, because in context what is ‘seen’ is that “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14b, cf. John 4:42). Thus the author probably intends to include the readers in the reference here, as genuine Christians who are holding fast to the apostolic testimony: they themselves are able to testify to the salvific role of the Son (unlike the opponents, who cannot do so). Thus this use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”), like the other first person plural pronouns in 4:11-13, is probably best understood as an inclusive use and refers to both the author and the readers (as well as all genuine believers).590

The syntactical relationship of swth''ra (swthra, “savior”) to uiJovn (Juion, “son”) in 4:14. Swth'ra (swthra, “savior”) is the object complement of uiJovn (Juion, “son”) in a double accusative construction in 4:14, so there is an understood equative verb joining the two, with the resultant meaning “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” The term Swth'ra (swthra, “savior”) occurs only here in the Johannine letters, and also occurs only once in the Fourth Gospel, in John 4:42, in a phrase that is directly parallel. The title “savior” was also used in the Roman imperial cult.591 It has been suggested that the Christian use of the term to refer to Jesus developed as a response in opposition to this usage.592

    4:15 If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God.

    Summary

The second ground of assurance mentioned by the author is confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. Compare 1 John 3:23a. The statement God resides in him and he in God again refers to the mutual relationship between God and the Christian.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the confession in 4:15, Jesus is the Son of God, in terms of the authors argument. It seems clear from the reference to God’s giving of his Spirit as an accomplished fact in 4:13b and from the reference to God’s indwelling of the believer in 4:15b (the second half of the present verse) that the confession introduced by the author in 4:15a, that “Jesus is the Son of God,” is a confession which constitutes the one who makes it a believer.593 We might suspect it is particularly aimed at the author’s opponents, and is in fact something the opponents would not or could not say. The author’s use of the Greek article oJ (Jo, “the”) with the phrase uiJoV tou' qeou' (Juios tou qeou, “Son of God”) implies that the problem is not with the predicate, “Son of God,” but with the subject, “Jesus”: whether Jesus was in fact in this relationship to God or not. The opponents would probably have been forced to deny that he was.594

The meaning of the expression “God resides in him and he in God” in 4:15. On this typically Johannine statement with its reciprocity, see the similar phrase in 3:24, where the reciprocal concept of mutual indwelling with respect to God and the believer is introduced in 1 John for the first time. For the meaning of the verb mevnw (menw, “I reside”), see the discussion at its first occurrence in the letter in 2:6. Law did not think the reversal of order of the two clauses (“God…in him and he in God”) compared with 4:13 is of any particular significance here.595

    4:16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.

    Summary

The third ground of assurance the author mentions is showing love to fellow believers. When a believer shows love toward another believer, this provides assurance to the first believer that he or she resides in God and likewise, that God resides in him or her. Although a number of commentators view v. 16 as separate from the preceding context,596 Stott argued for a clear progression of thought in vv. 13, 15, 16: Believers know that they reside in God, and he in them, because of the presence of his Spirit (v. 13); believers know that God has granted them to share in his Spirit because they acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son (v. 15) and because they show love for fellow believers (= “resides in love,” v. 16).597

    Exegetical Details

The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:16a. The author’s use of the first person plural pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here is almost certainly inclusive, including the author himself, the readers, and all genuine Christians as contrasted to the opponents.598

The meaning of the verbs ejgnwvkamen (egnwkamen, “we have come to know”) and pepisteuvkamen (pepisteukamen, “[we have come] to believe”) in 4:16. Both verbs are perfect tense, implying a past action with existing results. In this case the past action is specified as the recognition of (ejgnwvkamen, egnwkamen) and belief in (pepisteuvkamen, pepisteukamen) “the love that God has in us”. But what is the relationship between the two verbs ginwvskw (ginwskw, “I know”) and pisteuvw (pisteuw, “I believe”)? Some interpreters see a different nuance in the two verbs. But in the Gospel of John these two verbs frequently occur together in the same context, often in the same tense; examples are found in John 6:69, 8:31-32, 10:38, 14:7-10, and 17:8. They also occur together in one other context in 1 John, 4:1-2. Of these John 6:69, Peter’s confession, is the closest parallel to the usage here: “We have come to believe (pepisteuvkamen, pepisteukamen) and to know (ejgnwvkamen, egnwkamen) that you are the Holy One of God.” Here the order of “knowing” and “believing” is reversed from 1 John 4:16, but an examination of the other examples from the Gospel of John makes it clear that there is no difference in meaning when the order of the terms is reversed. It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action.599 Thus they represent a hendiadys which describes an act of faith/belief/trust on the part of the individual; knowledge (true knowledge) is an inseparable part of this act of faith as far as John is concerned.

The force of the preposition ejn (en, “in”) in the phrase ejn hJmi'n (en Jhmin, “in us”) in 4:16a. Although “for” (in the sense of “on behalf of”) is possible and is a common English translation,600 the other uses of the same phrase in 1 John 4:9 (where it refers to God’s love for us) and 4:12 (where it refers to God’s indwelling of the believer) suggest that the author intends to emphasize interiority here – a reference to God’s love expressed in believers. This is confirmed by the uses in 1 John 3:15 and 5:10, the only other uses in 1 John of the verb e[cw (ecw, “I have”) with the preposition ejn (en, “in”), both of which literally refer to something ‘in’ someone. Beyond this (and even more significant in my view) there is the use of the preposition preposition ejn (en, “in”) in the second part of the present verse to describe God “residing in” the believer, where interiority is clearly in view.

The relationship of 4:16b to the context. This is a restatement or “echo” of 1 John 4:13 and 4:15b which emphasizes the mutual indwelling of God and the believer. The statement here relates this theme of mutual indwelling to the author’s assertion in 4:8 that “God is love.”601 It is much debated whether 1 John 4:16b should be seen as the beginning of a new paragraph.602 In support of a continuation of the previous paragraph, it is argued that the reciprocal concepts of God’s love for believers (4:16a) and believers’ expression of that love (4:16b) belong together and are complementary.603 Furthermore, the repetition of the formula concerning mutual (reciprocal) indwelling, which previously appeared in vv. 13 and 15, serves to mark the end of the paragraph.604 Nevertheless, the opening phrase of v. 17, ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) probably refers to what precedes rather than what follows (see below), and so would not begin a new subdivision (i.e., paragraph). Second, if 4:16b is taken as the opening statement of a new paragraph, there is parallelism among the opening statements of 4:7, 4:11, and 4:16b. Finally, the themes of love, mutual residing of God and the believer, and perfection began the previous subdivision (cf. 4:11-12) and would begin this one too (4:16b-17).605

    4:17 By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world.

    Summary

The author now talks about Christian growth (what we might call Christian maturity or sanctification). As believers love one another this love is perfected with regard to their actions in loving fellow believers, and that in turn allows them to have confidence in the day of judgment. Believers may have confidence that when Jesus returns they will not be punished (see next verse) but that they will be like him (just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:17. The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both Jina- and Joti-clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw). Thus this use of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) falls into category (3) as described above: it may refer either to what precedes or to what follows.606

There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) in 4:17: (a) it may refer to the Jina-clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that [= when?] they have confidence in the day of judgment.607 The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (ejn, en) to mean “about, concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (b) The ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) may refer to the Joti-clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us…in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and we have seen numerous cases where ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is explained by a Joti-clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening Jina-clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) explained by a following Joti-clause where a Jina-clause intervenes between the two in this way. (c) Thus, the third possibility is that ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this – by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us – is love brought to perfection with us.”608 This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Thus option (c) is best, with the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the Jina-clause which follows indicating the result of this perfection of love in believers: in the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The Joti-clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world – they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.

The force and syntactical relationship of the preposition metav (meta, “with”) in 4:17. The expression meq j hJmw'n (meq Jhmwn) is somewhat unusual; Marshall suggested it reflected a Hebraism, comparing it to the use of metav (meta, “with”) in greetings and blessings (cf. 2 John 3).609 The preposition metav (meta) means “with” and modifies the verb teteleivwtai (teteleiwtai, “is perfected”). If the prepositional phrase modified the noun ajgavph (agaph, “love”) which immediately precedes it, it would almost certainly have the Greek article, thus: hJ ajgavph [hJ] meq= hJmw'n (Jh agaph [Jh] meqJhmwn, “the love [which is] with us”). To say “love is perfected with us” means “with regard to our actions in loving our fellow believers.” It is debated by interpreters whether this “love” refers to believers’ love for God (Stott), God’s love for believers (Haas, Bultmann) or both (Marshall, Houlden, Smalley), although either of the latter two options seem more likely than the former in light of 4:12.610

The significance of the phrase “in the day of judgment” in 4:17. This phrase occurs only here in the Johannine corpus, but see Matt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7. Bultmann thought the phrase “day of judgment” did not fit the present context, and so suggested it was added by a redactor.611 But while references to future eschatology are few and far between in the Fourth Gospel,612 it is mentioned in 1 John at 2:18, 28, and 3:2. The author is implying that love “is perfected” in the Christian’s correct behavior now (“residing in love,” 4:16; cf. 2:29) as well as through the Christian’s confidence in God’s presence in the future “day of judgment” (cf. 3:21). In fact, as Smalley notes, “the one leads to the other.”613

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 4:17. Once more the author uses the pronoun ejkei'no (ekeinos) to refer to Jesus Christ, as he did in 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 5, 7, and 16.614 A reference to Jesus is confirmed in this context because the author says that “just as he is, so also are we [believers] in this world” and since 3:2 indicated that believers are to be like God in the future (but are not yet), the only one believers can be like already in the present age is Jesus Christ.615

    4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love.

    Summary

Fear on the one hand and mature, perfect love on the other are mutually exclusive. A Christian who fears God’s punishment (on the day of judgment mentioned in v. 17) has not yet been perfected in love, but needs to grow in his or her understanding of love. The thought begun in v. 16 is completed here.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the phrase hJ teleiva ajgavph (Jh teleia agaph, “perfect love”) in 4:18. The author’s capacity for writing somewhat obscurely, as usual, has resulted in a text capable of various interpretations. Commentators have questioned whether the reference in 1 John 4:18 to “perfect love” refers to (1) God’s love for believers, (2) the believer’s love for God, or (3) believers’ love for one another. Probably in a number of these references to ‘perfected’ love the author does not have one idea or the other exclusively in view, however, but rather a concept of love on a sort of continuum: “perfect” love begins with God, who himself is love (4:8) and from whom all love proceeds (4:19). God’s love for the world of men is manifested in his sending of his Son Jesus into the world to be its Savior (4:9, 10, 14). This divine love manifested in Jesus as he came into the world gives life to those who believe in him (4:9b, John 1:4), and resides in believers, actively manifesting itself in both love for fellow Christians and love for God (4:21). For our author, the concept of ‘perfected’ love encompasses all of this, but culminates in the active demonstration of love toward fellow believers and love for God. As far as the author of 1 John is concerned with regard to the secessionist opponents, their failure to practice the former demonstrates their lack of the latter.

The meaning of the phrase oJ fovbo kovlasin e[cei (Jo fobos kolasin ecei, “fear has to do with punishment”) in 4:18. The entire phrase could be understood in two slightly different ways: “fear has its own punishment” or “fear has to do with [i.e., includes] punishment.”616 These are not far apart, however, and the real key to understanding the expression lies in the meaning of the Greek word kovlasi (kolasis, “punishment”), found in the New Testament only here and in Matt 25:46.617 While it may refer exclusively to physical torture or torment, as in 4 Macc 8:9,618 there are numerous Koiné references involving eternal punishment (T. Reu. 5:5, T. Gad 7:5) and some references (e.g., 2 Macc 4:38) that are ambiguous.619 Eternal punishment is clearly in view in the only other New Testament reference, Matt 25:46. In the present context, where the author has mentioned confidence in the day of judgment (4:17), it seems virtually certain that eternal punishment (or at least the fear of it) is what is meant here. The (only) alternative to perfected love, which results in confidence at the day of judgment, is fear, which has to do with the punishment one is afraid of receiving at the judgment. As 4:18b states, “The one who fears [punishment] has not been perfected in love.” It is often assumed by interpreters that the opposite to perfected love (which casts out fear) is imperfect love (which still has fear and therefore no assurance). This is possible, but it is not likely, because the author nowhere mentions imperfect love, and as Brown states, “in Johannine dualism the opposite to perfect love may not be imperfect love but hate. To hold on to fear is to be on the wrong side of judgment.”620 In other words, in the antithetical (‘either/or’) categories in which the author presents his arguments, a person is either a genuine Christian, who becomes ‘perfected’ in love as he/she remains/resides in love and in a mutually indwelling relationship with God (cf. 4:16b), or one is not a genuine Christian at all, but one who (like the opponents) hates his/her fellow member of the Christian community, is a liar, and does not know God at all (cf. 4:20). Such a person should well fear judgment and eternal punishment because in the author’s view that is precisely where he or she is headed!

    4:19 We love because he loved us first.

    Summary

God’s love for us should motivate us to love one another. The basis for Christians loving one another is the prior love of God for them. Compare 1 John 3:16. Compare also 1 John 4:10-11 above. Although the verse appears to be a declarative statement in the indicative mood, it contains an implicit exhortation: because God first loved Christians, they ought to love him and others in return.

    Exegetical Details

The object of the verb ajgapw'men (agapwmen, “we love”) in 4:19. No object is supplied for the verb here (the author with his propensity for obscurity has left it to the readers to supply the object).621 The obvious objects that could be supplied from the context are either God himself (so Houlden) or other believers (Schnackenburg).622 It is likely that the author has both in mind at this point; the statement is general enough to cover both alternatives, although the following verse puts more emphasis on love for fellow believers, a theme already shown to be important in 1 John.623

The referent of aujtov (autos, “he”) in 4:19. The pronoun aujtov (autos, “he”) in 4:19 almost certainly refers to God, because 4:16a explicitly mentions “the love that God has in us.” This love on God’s part is manifested in his sending his Son into the world to be the Savior of the world (cf. 1 John 4:9, 10, 14; John 3:17).

    4:20 If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

    Summary

For the author of 1 John, hatred of a fellow Christian is irreconcilable with genuine love for God. The individual who claims to love God while hating a fellow Christian is a liar who has no relationship with God at all.

    Exegetical Details

The relationship of the phrase ejavn ti ei[ph/ (ean tis eiph, “if anyone says”) in 4:20 to the authors argument. Here the author has reverted to hypothetical statements like those in 1:6, 8, 10 and 2:4, 6, 9. Like those former statements, this one almost certainly has the author’s opponents in view: they claim to love God, but fail to love their fellow members of the Christian community. This leads the author to conclude that such a person is a liar, and the reason is given in the following clause introduced by the conjunction gavr (gar, “because”): he is a liar because the person who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (cf. 4:12).

The structure of 4:20b. The structure of the second half of 4:20 is chiastic, as follows:

      [A] oJ gaVr mhV ajgapw'n

      because the one not loving

 

        [B] toVn ajdelfoVn aujtou' o}n eJwvraken,

        his brother whom he has seen,

        [B´ ] toVn qeoVn o}n oujc eJwvraken

        God whom he has not seen

      [A´ ] ouj duvnatai ajgapa'n.

      he is not able to love.

In a similar statement in 1 John 3:17 the author implied by use of a rhetorical question that God’s love cannot reside624 in an individual who refuses to love his fellow believer (especially his fellow believer in need). Now the author states explicitly that such a person cannot love God, and this is emphasized further by the chiastic arrangement.625

The meaning of the authors statement in 4:20, the person who does not love his fellow Christian...cannot love God.” For the author, it is impossible for such a person to love God, because all the love there is comes from God (cf. 1 John 4:8) and thus this person who does not love his fellow member of the Christian community has no relationship with God at all.626

    4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.

    Summary

Again the author stresses the importance of loving one’s fellow Christian (one gets the impression that for the author of 1 John this was extremely important). Compare 1 John 4:16b; also 3:14; 16; 23; John 13:34-35 and John 15:12.627

    Exegetical Details

The force of the i{na- (Jina-) clause in 4:21. The Jina-clause in 1 John 4:21 could be giving the purpose or the result of the commandment mentioned in the first half of the verse, but if it does, the author nowhere specifies what the commandment consists of. It makes better sense to understand this Jina-clause as epexegetical (explanatory) to the pronoun tauvthn (tauthn, “this”) at the beginning of 4:21628 and thus explaining what the commandment consists of: “that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.”

The referent of the first aujtou' (autou, “him”) in 4:21. Again the referent is ambiguous, but in context this is best understood as a reference to God, who has been the subject of frequent mention in the preceding context.629 This is consistent with the tendency of the author throughout 1 John to attribute the commandment to “love one another” to God (1 John 2:3-4, 3:22-24) even though the Gospel of John attributes it to Jesus (John 13:34-35).630 A reference to God here is also confirmed by the author’s failure to use the pronoun ejkei'no (ekeinos, “that one”), which he consistently uses elsewhere in 1 John to specify a reference to Jesus Christ (2:6, 3:3,;5, 7, 16, and 4:17).

    5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is fathered by God, and everyone who loves the father loves the child fathered by him.

    Summary

Once again (echoing 4:2-3) the confession that Jesus is the Christ is the standard which determines whether or not one is fathered by God. The second part of the verse is like a proverb: “if one loves the parent one will love the child,” though this has application to loving God and loving God’s children in the present context.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the confession, “that Jesus is the Christ” (o{ti =Ihsou' ejstin oJ Cristov, Joti Ihsous estin Jo Cristos), to the author’s argument. The person who believes this is acknowledged to be a Christian (“is fathered by God”).631 What problem would the opponents have had with such a formulation? There is no indication that they would have had a problem with the predicate; more likely they would have had problems with the subject, “Jesus.” In other words, the opponents would have had problems with the unique and unqualified application of the title “Messiah” (“Christ”) to Jesus during his earthly career and ministry. Together with the confession in 1 John 4:15 and 5:5, “Jesus is the Son of God,” the confession here forms the full and complete Johannine confession as found in John 20:31 (“so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”632 The statement of the confession here (“that Jesus is the Christ”) is also consistent with the proposed interpretation of the confession in 4:2, “every spirit that confesses Jesus [as the] Christ who has come in the flesh,” since here “Jesus” and “Christ” are separated and “Christ” is what is being confessed. In 4:2 “who has come in the flesh” is an additional qualification to “Christ,” while here an abbreviated version of the confession “Christ” appears. Culpepper saw 5:1 as an inclusion with 5:5 because the two titles of Jesus which are used in the purpose statement of the Fourth Gospel in 20:31 (“Christ” and “Son of God”) occur in these two verses in 1 John.633

The meaning of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “to father, to beget”) in 5:1. The verb gennavw (gennaw) here means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The bold imagery in 1 John is that of God as the male parent who fathers children.634

The meaning of 5:1b – a general observation or a specific statement about God and Christians? There are three ways in which the second half of 5:1 has been understood: (1) It could be a general statement, proverbial in nature, applying to any parent and child: “everyone who loves the father also loves the child fathered by him.”635 (2) This has also been understood as a statement that is particularly true of one’s own parent: “everyone who loves his own father also loves the (other) children fathered by him (i.e., one’s own siblings).”636 (3) This could be understood as a statement which refers particularly to God, in light of the context (5:1a): “everyone who loves God who fathered Christians also loves the Christians who are fathered by God.”637 Without doubt options (2) and (3) are implications of the statement in its present context, but it seems most probable that the meaning of the statement is more general and proverbial in nature (option 1). This is likely because of the way in which it is introduced by the author with pa' oJ (pas Jo, “everyone who”) + participle. The author could have been more explicit and said something like, “everyone who loves God also loves God’s children” had he intended option (3) without ambiguity. Yet that, in context, is the ultimate application of the statement, because it ultimately refers to the true Christian who, because he loves God, also loves his fellow Christians, those who are God’s offspring. This is the opposite of 1 John 4:20, where the author asserted that the opponents, who profess to love God but do not love their fellow members of the Christian community, cannot really love God because they do not love their fellow Christians.

    5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments.

    Summary

At face value this verse says just the opposite of 4:20, where the author stated we could know that we love God when we love our fellow Christians. It appears the debate is really over two things at once: whether or not we really love God (addressed by 4:20 and aimed at the opponents) and how we can know that we really love God’s children (addressed here and aimed at the readers). To know that we love the children of God we must be loving God the Father and obeying his commandments.638

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 5:2. Once more there is the familiar difficulty of determining whether the phrase refers to what precedes or to what follows. Here, because ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is followed by a clause introduced by o{tan (Jotan, “whenever”) which appears to be related, it is best to understand ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) as referring to what follows.639 Thus it falls into category (1) as discussed earlier,640 and the following Jotan-clause is epexegetical (explanatory) to ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), explaining how we know that we love God’s children: “by this we know that we love God’s children, whenever we love God and keep his commandments.” For the meaning of this statement, see the following section.

The meaning of 5:2, we know that we love the children of God whenever we love God and obey his commandments.” It is not entirely clear what the author means by this, because at face value it says exactly the opposite of 1 John 4:20, where he stated that we could know that we love God when we love our fellow believers. Now he says we can know that we love our fellow believers when we love God!641 This apparently circular reasoning becomes understandable if the debate here is over two things simultaneously: whether or not we really love God (which is addressed by 1 John 4:20) and how we can know that we really love God’s children (which is addressed by 1 John 5:2). Both these alternatives are plausible if the author here is dealing with two aspects of the controversy with the opponents at the same time. On the one hand the opponents claim to love God, but do not love the members of the Christian community to which the author is writing, because they have seceded from it (1 John 2:18-19). Thus in 1 John 4:20 the author questions the validity of the opponents’ claim to know God, because they have failed to love their fellow members of the community. On the other hand, the question for the readers is, “how may we know that we really love God’s children?” (a question that might reasonably follow from the author’s statement in 5:1b) and the author answers that one must be loving God and obeying him in order to know that. In other words, the context in 1 John 4:20 is more polemic, aimed at the opponents, while the context here in 5:2 is addressed to the author’s followers and is aimed at reassuring them. This is also supported by the first person plural pronouns in 5:2-3, which are almost certainly inclusive in scope (the author plus his readers).

    5:3 For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down,

    Summary

A Christian’s love for God is expressed by obeying him. The phrase his commandments do not weigh us down echoes the words of Jesus in Matt 11:30, “My yoke is easy to bear and my load is not hard to carry.”

    Exegetical Details

The force of the conjunction gavr (gar, “for”) at the beginning of 5:3. This is similar to another introductory formula used by the author of 1 John in 1:5, 5:4, 5:11, and 5:14, kaiV au{th ejstivn (kai Jauth estin, “now this is”). The conjunction gavr (gar, “for”) is inferential and has as its basis the preceding statements, particularly the one in 1 John 5:2b regarding the love of God. If in 5:2 loving God and keeping his commandments is the key to knowing that we love God’s children, it is important to define what the love of God involves, and this is what the author is doing in 5:3. In fact, as the following Jina-clause makes clear, loving God consists in keeping his commandments (see the following section).

The force of the i{na- (Jina-) clause in 5:3. The au{th (Jauth, “this”) which begins 5:3 has the Jina-clause as its referent. The Jina-clause is epexegetical (explanatory) to the preceding phrase, explaining what the love of God consists of: “that we keep his [= God’s] commandments.” This is not the only Johannine definition of love: it was defined from God’s perspective in 1 John 4:10 (he sent his Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins) and from the believer’s perspective in 2 John 6, which is very close in meaning to the present verse: “Now this is love: that we walk according to his commandments.” The Johannine definition of love for God from the believer’s point of view concerns obedience to God’s commandments (compare John 14:15, 21; and especially, in context, John 15:12).

The force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 5:3. Once again the genitive could be understood as objective, subjective, or both.642 Here an objective sense is more likely (believers’ love for God) because in the previous verse it is clear that God is the object of believers’ love.

The punctuation of 5:3. Contrary to the punctuation of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition and the United Bible Societies’ 4th edition Greek texts, it is best to place a full stop (period) in the Greek text following the verb thrw'men (thrwmen, “we keep) in 1 John 5:3. The subordinate clause introduced by Joti at the beginning of 5:4 is related to the second half of 5:3 which begins with kaiv (kai, “and”). The conjunction kaiv (kai) is commonly used by the author to begin a new sentence, perhaps by analogy with the Hebrew vav consecutive.

The description of Gods commandments as not being weighty (barei'ai, bareiai) in 5:3. The term “weighty” here is a figurative way of describing a commandment as “burdensome” or “difficult”, as indicated by Deut 30:11 and reiterated by Jesus in Matt 11:30.643 In contrast Jesus described the Pharisees in Matt 23:4 as people who “tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders.” The author of 1 John may well have been thinking of Jesus’ words in Matt 11:30, “my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” In any case, the implicit reason the author can describe God’s commandments as not being weighty is because the commandment is to love one another, and God himself is the source of this love which believers are to have for one another.644 Another way to say this is that God provides the empowerment for Christians to love one another in obedience to the new commandment, since he himself is the source of the love Christians have for one another.645

    5:4a …because everyone who is fathered by God conquers the world.

    Summary

The author has used the verb translated “to conquer” to describe the believer’s victory over Satan himself in 1 John 2:13-14 and over the secessionist opponents (described as “false prophets”) in 4:4. It is most likely that the author has in mind victory over the opponents here.646 In the face of the opponents’ attempts through their false teaching to confuse the readers (who are genuine Christians) about who it is they are supposed to love, the author assures the readers that loving God and keeping his commandments assures them that they really do love God’s children. Because they have already achieved victory over the world through their faith, keeping God’s commandments is not a difficult or burdensome matter.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “because”) at the beginning of 5:4. The explicit reason the commandments of God are not burdensome to the believer is given by the Joti-clause at the beginning of 1 John 5:4. It is “because everyone who is fathered by God conquers the world.” Once again, the author’s language is far from clear at this point, and so is his meaning, but the author has used the verb nikavw (nikaw, “conquer”) previously to describe the believer’s victory over the Enemy, the evil one himself, in 1 John 2:13-14, and over the secessionist opponents, described as “false prophets” in 1 John 4:4. This suggests that what the author has in mind here is a victory over the opponents, who now belong to the world and speak its language (cf. 4:5). In the face of the opponents’ attempts through their false teaching to confuse the readers (who are genuine Christians) about who it is they are supposed to love, the author assures the readers that loving God and keeping his commandments assures us that we really do love God’s children, and because we have already achieved victory over the world through our faith, keeping God’s commandments is not a difficult matter.

The use of the neuter (rather than the masculine) gender to refer to the person who is fathered by God in 5:4a. We might have expected the masculine gender here rather than the neuter pa'n toV gegennhmevnon ejk tou' qeou' (pan to gegennhmenon ek tou qeou, “everyone who is fathered by God”). However, Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar of NT Greek explains: “The neuter is sometimes used with reference to persons if it is not the individuals but a general quality that is to be emphasized. Intensifying pa'n or pavnta may be added.”647 This seems to be the case here, where a collective aspect is in view: as a group, all those who have been fathered by God, that is, all genuine Christians, overcome the world.648 The author is once more looking at the situation antithetically (in ‘either/or’ terms) as he sees the readers on the one hand as genuine Christians who have overcome the world through their faith, and the opponents on the other as those who have claimed to have a relationship with God but really do not; they belong to the world in spite of their claims to know God. For the author of 1 John, all genuine Christians are “overcomers.”


546 According to Smalley, this clause gives “the fundamental basis of the imperative” (1, 2, 3 John, 237).

547 Cf. Marshall, The Epistles of John, 211, n. 2.

548 See the section “The referent of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 3:4” above.

549 Cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 118; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 211-12.

550 See the section “The referent of oJ mhV ajgapw'n in 4:8” below.

551 See the section “The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29” for further discussion of the imagery.

552 See the section “The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 4:7” above.

553 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 110; cf. also Stott, The Epistles of John, 160, and Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 107.

554 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.”

555 The various options and difficulties in understanding the genitive used with qeov in 1 John are discussed in the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above, where the phrase occurs for the first time in the letter.

556 Cf. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 149.

557 If this were the case, it would imply the Son was derivative from (and less than) the Father.

558 Clement understood the legend of the Phoenix to mean there could be only one Phoenix alive in the world at any given time.

559 See further F. Büchsel, TDNT 4:737-41.

560 See the section “The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 2:2” above for examples of both neutral and negative uses.

561 For further discussion of the meaning of kovsmo (kosmos) see Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 57, 108.

562 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.”

563 Cf. Smalley, “The explication of love’s essence is provided in the subsequent o{ti (“that”) clauses (negative and positive)” (1, 2, 3 John, 243).

564 So Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

565 For fuller discussion see the section “The meaning of iJlasmov (Jilasmos, “atoning sacrifice”) in 2:2” above. There the alternatives for translation into contemporary English are also discussed.

566 Cf. Rom 8:32, which may also allude, as Houlden (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 113-14) thinks the present passage does, to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, his “only son” (Gen 22:1-14).

567 See Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 122-23.

568 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John,” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents.

569 The Greek term used here is ajgaphtoiv (agaphtoi). This is the sixth and last time this term of endearment is used by the author of 1 John to refer to his readers.

570 See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 692-93.

571 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 68, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 245.

572 Dodd states, “It can now be very plainly seen that the new command is no arbitrary or optional addition to the original Gospel (ii.7)” (The Johannine Epistles, 112 [boldface his]).

573 Cf. Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

574 The idea of God being unseen or invisible has OT roots (Exod 33:20, 23; Deut 4:12) and also appears in the OT Apocrypha (Sir 43:31) and first century Jewish literature like Philo (On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 48 [168-69]) and Josephus (Jewish War 7.8.7 [346]).

575 See the sections “The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:2b,” “The (understood) subject of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh, “been revealed”) in 3:2,” and “The referents of aujtw// (autw, “him”) and aujtovn (auton, “him”) in 3:2b” above.

576 Cf. Smalley, “It is possible that some gnostically inclined members of John’s congregation were claiming to have ‘seen’ God directly, and thereby to ‘know’ him” (1, 2, 3 John, 246). However, it is also worth noting that if the opponents were claiming to have ‘seen’ God in the person of Jesus (along the lines of John 14:9), that would be a claim the author could agree with. Thus they must have been claiming to have ‘seen’ God directly, something the author of 1 John denies.

577 P. W. van der Horst proposed that the verb used here for “seen,” teqevatai (teqeatai), results from an etymological connection believed to have existed in ancient Greek between qeov (qeos) and qea'sqai (qeasqai) or qei'o (qeios) (“A Wordplay in 1 Joh 4, 12?” ZNW 63 [1972]: 280-82). This does not seem likely, however, since in the closely connected text in the Fourth Gospel (1:18) the verb is eJwvraken (Jewraken), not teqevatai (teqeatai).

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

579 So Stott, The Epistles of John, 164; cf. Malatesta, who sees God as the source, model, and giver of all love (Interiority and Covenant, 301).

580 Cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120, and Brown, The Epistles of John, 521. Dodd, on the other hand, argued for an objective genitive here (The Johannine Epistles, 113).

581 There is a hypothetical question which the text does not answer. What happens if believers do not love one another? Are both apodoses in 4:12 not true, so that (a) God does not ‘reside’ in such a person and (b) God’s love does not reach perfection in such a person? It seems probable that only the second would not be true: God’s love would not reach perfection in such an individual. But the author is not interested in raising such a question, probably because for him a genuine Christian indwelt by God who does not love his brother is a contradiction in terms. In the antithetical (‘either/or’) framework of the author’s thought, it is not possible to conceive of a genuine believer who as such does not love his brother.

582 On the meaning of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see the discussion at 1 John 2:6.

583 Brown takes the second Joti-clause as epexegetical: “there are two following Joti-clauses…the second of which (13b) is epexegetical of ‘in this’ by explaining how we know” (The Epistles of John, 521). Among those who take the second Joti-clause in a causal sense are Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 121), Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 249), and Painter (1, 2, and 3 John, 272). The resulting meaning is not much different.

584 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 219 (italics mine).

585 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.”

586 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 250; for other partitive uses in the NT compare Matt 25:28; John 1:16; 6:11; contrast 1 John 3:24b.

587 It may well be that the author avoided a more “subjective” approach to the ministry of the Spirit in believers here because that was precisely what his opponents were claiming to possess – an ongoing testimony of the Spirit within them as to who Jesus really was. If so, the author’s response was to insist on the objective criterion of (orthodox) doctrine (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). Cf. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 115; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 219; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 251.

588 Stott noted that in vv. 13 and 14 together there is a reference to all three persons of the Trinity: the Spirit in v. 13 and the Father and the Son in v. 14 (The Epistles of John, 166).

589 So Brooke, who took the pronoun to refer to the original eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 121).

590 So Dodd, who took the plural pronoun to refer to the Church in solidarity with the eyewitnesses (The Johannine Epistles, 116). A view not too different is that of Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 153) and Marshall (The Epistles of John, 220, n. 5), who took the pronoun to refer primarily to the apostles themselves, but to include the Church as represented by them (cf. v. 16). Brown, while in general supporting an inclusive understanding here (which he calls “nondistinctive”), does not see this referring to the entire Church, or even the entire Johannine community: “the ‘we’ that has seen and can testify is not the Johannine School alone but the members of the Johannine Community faithful to the author” (The Epistles of John, 523).

591 See J. Schneider and C. Brown, NIDNTT 3:216-216; W. Foerster, TDNT 7:1003-21.

592 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 220, n. 7.

593 Note also the similarity to John 20:31, the purpose statement for the Fourth Gospel. Cf. Smalley’s comment: “…acknowledgment of the divine sonship of Jesus leads to the mutual indwelling of God and his people” (1, 2, 3 John, 253). Brown notes, “…the author is now talking about the (single) basic public confession of faith that makes on a Christian. Obviously he assumes that the person who makes the confession continues to believe in it, but he is not envisaging a constant oral repetition of the confession as a basis of divine abiding” (The Epistles of John, 524).

594 See the sections “The meaning of mhV oJmologei' toVn =Ihsou'n (mh Jomologei ton Ihsoun, ‘does not confess Jesus’) in 4:3” and “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” above for further discussion of these issues. Along these same lines Smalley notes, “The fact that the writer returns in this v to the thought of orthodox ‘confession’…suggests that he still has in mind the need to resist the heterodox members of his community” (1, 2, 3 John, 253).

595 Law, The Tests of Life, 400; cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 254. Given the love of stylistic variation by John both in the Fourth Gospel and the letters, it would be difficult to assess what significance (if any) the reversal of the clauses would have here. Law was probably correct not to see any particular significance to the changed order at this point.

596 E.g., Schnackenburg, who saw vv. 14-15 as a digression, after which the author returns to his point in v. 16 (The Johannine Epistles, 219, 221); similarly Marshall saw v. 16 as parallel to v. 14 and therefore not related to v. 15 (The Epistles of John, 221, n. 8).

597 Stott, The Epistles of John, 166.

598 See the extended discussion of this issue in the section “The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, ‘we’) in 4:14” above, which also applies to the present instance. Cf. also Law, The Tests of Life, 400, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 255.

599 So Brown, The Epistles of John, 525.

600 E.g., “the love God has for us” (nrsv, nasb, niv, esv, tniv); so also Law, The Tests of Life, 401.

601 For further discussion of the meaning of the phrase “God is love” see the previous section “The meaning of the statement in 4:8, ‘God is love.’”

602 So Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 155-56), Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 122-23), and Brown (The Epistles of John, 560); cf. neb, niv.

603 So Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 255.

604 Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

605 Cf. Brown, The Epistles of John, 560.

606 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.”

607 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 123-24, and Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 222 (cf. n. 78). Smalley, although he takes the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) to refer to what follows, does not see a reference to the preceding as excluded: “John’s use of ejn touvtw/ may act as a bridge from one step in his discussion to the next by looking in both directions: backward to v 16, and forward to the remainder of v 17” (1, 2, 3 John, 256-57).

608 So Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 157), Marshall (The Epistles of John, 223, n. 17), and Brown (The Epistles of John, 560).

609 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 223, n. 19.

610 Stott, The Epistles of John, 168; Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 111; Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 72; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 223; Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 117; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 257.

611 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 72-73.

612 This is primarily due to the Fourth Gospel’s focus on what is usually called “realized” eschatology. Among the very few clear references to future eschatology in John’s Gospel are 5:28-29.

613 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 258.

614 See the initial discussion of this issue in the section “The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos…) in 2:6.”

615 See the section “The referents of aujtw// (autw, ‘him’) and aujtovn (auton, ‘him’) in 3:2b” above for a discussion of the context there.

616 On the meaning of the term fovbo (fobos, “fear”) see W. Mundle, NIDNTT 1:623-24. Smalley calls the fear mentioned in this context “servile, self-regarding fear (as in Rom 8:15; cf. John 19:38; 20:19)” (1, 2, 3 John, 260).

617 The related verb is used in Acts 4:21 and 2 Pet 2:9, however.

618 BDAG 555 s.v. kovlasi 1. 4 Macc 8:9, 11 states, “But if by disobedience you rouse my anger, you will compel me to destroy each and every one of you with dreadful punishments through tortures….Will you not consider this, that if you disobey, nothing remains for you but to die on the rack?”

619 The Testament of Reuben and the Testament of Gad are two of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, examples of Jewish intertestamental literature written between 109 and 106 b.c.; 2 Macc 4:38 describes Antiochus executing Andronicus for the murder of Onias: he “led him…to that very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias, and there he dispatched the bloodthirsty fellow. The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.” One might think this is limited to physical death, but the Lord’s involvement suggests at least the possibility of an eternal punishment.

620 Brown, The Epistles of John, 532. In such a person God’s love (or the individual’s love for God) has not yet become a reality (cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 73). On the antithetical opposition between fear and love in this verse see also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 121-22.

621 Direct objects are frequently omitted in the NT and in Koiné Greek in general, but they are usually more obvious from the context than this one is. No doubt this has resulted in the textual variants toVn qeovn (ton qeon, “[we love] God”) found in a Vgcl syrp, h copbo arm on the one hand and aujtovn (auton, “[we love] him”) found in K y on the other.

622 Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 225.

623 Arguing for a reference both to God and other believers here are Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 114; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225, n. 26; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 262.

624 The verb used in 3:17 is mevnw (menw). For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

625 On the chiastic arrangement see Brown, The Epistles of John, 533. As Westcott states, the author of 1 John allows “no position of indifference” (The Epistles of St. John, 161). As is typical in the Johannine literature of the NT, the author here portrays the issue as antithetical, in terms of polar opposites, with no middle ground in between.

626 Smalley comments, “Love for God…is expressed in love for others. To withhold the one is to render the other impossible” (1, 2, 3 John, 264). Cf. Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225-26; also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 123-24. See further the section “The referent of the phrase hJ teleiva ajgavph in 4:18” for a discussion of the author’s concept of love.

627 Note Smalley’s comments here: “John has articulated already the command to love (note especially 3:23; cf. also 4:7, 11). But his restatement of the ordinance here is no mere repetition. (a) It gains force and precision in the light of his description so far (vv 7-20) of the source, inspiration, and practice of love. (b) For the first time in 1 John the author speaks positively of the need to love both God and other people (the reference in v 20 is negative)” (1, 2, 3 John, 264).

628 The pronoun tauvthn (tauthn), translated “this,” occurs in the Greek text at the beginning of v. 21, in an emphatic position. In English, where it would normally appear first in the clause, it is more emphatic when placed at the end, in close proximity to what it refers to.

629 So Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 226, n. 93, and Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225, n. 28.

630 In spite of the evidence mentioned above, the fact that the command to love one another was given in the Fourth Gospel by Jesus (John 13:34; 15:12, 17) is used by some to argue that Jesus rather than God is the referent of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “him”) in v. 21 (e.g., Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120, n. 2; cf. Stott, The Epistles of John, 171. See also the translation of this verse in the neb.

631 The confession here, “that Jesus is the Christ,” is virtually synonymous with the confession mentioned in 2:22-23; 4:2, 15 (although the reference to the incarnation found in 4:2 [“come in the flesh”] is not repeated here). Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 76; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 227.

632 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents.

633 R. Alan Culpepper, “The Pivot of John’s Prologue,” NTS 27 (1980/81): 25-26.

634 See the section “The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29” for further discussion of the imagery.

635 So Marshall, The Epistles of John, 227, n. 32.

636 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 129.

637 So Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 76-77.

638 As stated by Smalley, “The divine ‘orders’ (ejntolav, plural) in question are the moral precepts of God summed up in the supreme obligation of love (ejntolhv, singular, as in 2:7-8; 3:23 and 4:21)” (1, 2, 3 John, 269.

639 For further discussion of this particular occurrence of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) see Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 268, who takes the phrase to refer to what follows (as we do) and interacts with the opposing views of Marshall and Dodd at some length.

640 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.”

641 The apparent discrepancy with Johannine thought elsewhere led both Marshall (The Epistles of John, 227-28) and Dodd (The Johannine Epistles, 125-26) to understand the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) to refer to what precedes rather than what follows.

642 See the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above for a discussion of these options in Johannine usage.

643 On the meaning of the term baruv (barus, “weighty”) see G. Schrenk, TDNT 1:557-58.

644 The suggestion has been made that a rabbinic teaching about “light” and “heavy” laws may also lie behind the author’s statement here. Cf. Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 229; also H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, 1:901-905. Brown disagrees with the notion that a rabbinic distinction is present here (The Epistles of John, 540).

645 Put this way, it is also easier to see what the problem would be for the secessionist opponents: since the author of 1 John does not consider them to have a genuine relationship with God, they by definition cannot have this love for one another in obedience to the new commandment, because they cannot receive love from God.

646 Schnackenburg suggests a parallel with the “spirit of conflict and of confidence in victory” that characterized the Qumran community (The Johannine Epistles, 230, n. 103). He notes, however, that for the community at Qumran the victory was still future, while in 1 John the victory over the world is viewed as an event completed already (cf. Jesus’ statement “I have conquered the world” in John 16:33) yet still being worked out in the life of the Church. Cf. also Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 78, n. 17.

647 BDF §138(1). N. Turner also states, “As in class. Greek the neuter gender may refer to a person (e.g. toV gegennhmevnon Jn 3:6 1 Jn 5:4, cp. Masc. 5:1), provided that the emphasis is less on the individual than on some outstanding general quality like foolishness; pa'n is often added to make this clear” (MHT 3:21).

648 T. W. Manson also argued for a collective nuance for the neuter phrase here (“Entry into Membership of the Early Church,” JTS 48 [1947]: 27). Marshall, on the other hand, speculated whether the author might have been influenced by the neuter gender of the Greek words for “child” (The Epistles of John, 228, n. 37).

Related Topics: Fellowship, Love