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1 John 1:5--2:11

Context
God Is Light, So We Must Walk in the Light

1:5 Now 1  this is the gospel 2  message 3  we have heard from him 4  and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 5  1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking 6  in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing 7  the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses 8  us from all sin. 9  1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, 10  we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, 11  forgiving 12  us our sins and cleansing 13  us from all unrighteousness. 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. 2:1 (My little children, 14  I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. 15 ) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate 16  with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 17  2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice 18  for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 19 

Keeping God’s Commandments

2:3 Now 20  by this we know that we have come to know God: 21  if we keep his commandments. 2:4 The one who says “I have come to know God” 22  and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. 2:5 But whoever obeys his 23  word, truly in this person 24  the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. 2:6 The one who says he resides 25  in God 26  ought himself to walk 27  just as Jesus 28  walked.

2:7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. 29  The old commandment is the word that you have already 30  heard. 2:8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him 31  and in you, because 32  the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 33  2:9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates 34  his fellow Christian 35  is still in the darkness. 2:10 The one who loves his fellow Christian 36  resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 37  2:11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian 38  is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 39 

1 tn The καί (kai) at the beginning of 1:5 takes on a resumptive force, indicated by the phrase “heard from him and announce to you,” which echoes similar phrases in 1:2 and 1:3.

2 tn The word “gospel” is not in the Greek text but is supplied to clarify the meaning. See the note on the following word “message.”

3 tn The word ἀγγελία (angelia) occurs only twice in the NT, here and in 1 John 3:11. It is a cognate of ἐπαγγελία (epangelia) which occurs much more frequently (some 52 times in the NT) including 1 John 2:25. BDAG 8 s.v. ἀγγελία 1 offers the meaning “message” which suggests some overlap with the semantic range of λόγος (logos), although in the specific context of 1:5 BDAG suggests a reference to the gospel. (The precise “content” of this “good news’ is given by the ὅτι [Joti] clause which follows in 1:5b.) The word ἀγγελία here is closely equivalent to εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion): (1) it refers to the proclamation of the eyewitness testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the author and the rest of the apostolic witnesses (prologue, esp. 1:3-4), and (2) it relates to the salvation of the hearers/readers, since the purpose of this proclamation is to bring them into fellowship with God and with the apostolic witnesses (1:3). Because of this the adjective “gospel” is included in the English translation.

4 tn The referent of the pronoun “him” is not entirely clear in the Greek text; it could be either (1) God the Father, or (2) Jesus Christ, both of whom are mentioned at the end of v. 3. A reference to Jesus Christ is more likely because this is the nearest possible antecedent, and because God (the Father) is specifically mentioned in the following clause in v. 5.

5 tn The key to understanding the first major section of 1 John, 1:5-3:10, is found in the statement in v. 5: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” The idea of “proclamation” – the apostolic proclamation of eyewitness testimony which the prologue introduces (1:2, 3) – is picked up in 1:5 by the use of the noun ἀγγελία (angelia) and the verb ἀναγγέλλομεν (anangellomen), cognate to the verb in 1:3. The content of this proclamation is given by the ὅτι (Joti) clause in 1:5 as the assertion that God is light, so this statement should be understood as the author’s formulation of the apostolic eyewitness testimony introduced in the prologue. (This corresponds to the apostolic preaching elsewhere referred to as κήρυγμα [khrugma], although the term the Apostle John uses here is ἀγγελία.)

sn Following the theme statement in 1:5, God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, the author presents a series of three claims and counterclaims that make up the first unit of 1 John (1:5-2:2). The three claims begin with “if” (1:6, 8, 10) and the three counterclaims begin with “but if” (1:7, 9; 2:1).

6 tn The context of this statement in 1:6 indicates clearly that the progressive (continuative or durative) aspect of the present tense must be in view here.

sn The relationship of the phrase keep on walking to if we say is very important for understanding the problem expressed in 1:6. If one should say (εἴπωμεν, eipwmen) that he has fellowship with God, and yet continues walking (περιπατῶμεν, peripatwmen) in the darkness, then it follows (in the apodosis, the “then” clause) that he is lying and not practicing the truth.

7 tn Or “living according to…”

8 tn Or “purifies.”

9 tn BDAG 50 s.v. ἁμαρτία 1 defines this term as “a departure fr. either human or divine standards of uprightness” (see 1 John 5:17 where ἁμαρτία [Jamartia] and ἀδικία [adikia] are related). This word occurs 17 times in 1 John, of which 11 are singular and 6 are plural.

sn From all sin. Sometimes a distinction between singular “sin” and plural “sins” has been suggested: Some would see the singular all sin of 1:7 as a reference to sinfulness before conversion and the plural sins of 1:9 as a reference to sins committed after one became a Christian. This amounts to making 1:7 refer to initial justification and 1:9 to sanctification. But the phrase all sin in 1:7 is so comprehensive that it can hardly be limited to preconversion sins, and the emphasis on “walking” in 1:7 strongly suggests that the Christian life is in view (not one’s life before conversion). In 1 John 1:8 sin appears as a condition or characteristic quality, which in 1:10 is regarded as universal. Apart from forgiveness in Christ it results in alienation from God (2:15) and spiritual death (3:14). But according to 1 John 1:7, cleansing from sin is possible by the blood (representing the sacrificial death) of Jesus.

10 tn Grk “say we do not have sin.” The use of ἔχω + ἁμαρτία (ecw + Jamartia) is an expression limited to John and 1 John in the NT. On the analogy with other constructions where ἔχω governs an abstract noun (e.g., 1 John 1:3, 6, 7; 2:28; 3:3, 15, 21; 4:16, 17; 5:12-13), it indicates that a state is involved, which in the case of ἁμαρτία would refer to a state of sin. The four times the expression ἔχω + ἁμαρτία occurs in the Gospel of John (9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11) all refer to situations where a wrong action has been committed or a wrong attitude has already existed, resulting in a state of sin, and then something else happens which further emphasizes the evil of that action or attitude. Here in 1 John 1:8 the sense is the same. The author is addressing people who have sinned (resulting in a state of sin), warning them that they cannot claim to be free from the guilt of that sin. The context of 1 John does not imply libertinism (where sins are flaunted as a way of demonstrating one’s “liberty”) on the part of the opponents, since the author makes no explicit charges of immoral behavior against his opponents. The worst the author explicitly says is that they have failed to love the brethren (1 John 3:17). It seems more likely that the opponents were saying that things a believer did after conversion were not significant enough to be “sins” that could challenge one’s intimate relationship with God (a relationship the author denies that the opponents have to begin with).

11 tn Or “just.”

12 tn The ἵνα (Jina) followed by the subjunctive is here equivalent to the infinitive of result, an “ecbatic” or consecutive use of ἵνα according to BDAG 477 s.v. 3 where 1 John 1:9 is listed as a specific example. The translation with participles (“forgiving, …cleansing”) conveys this idea of result.

13 tn Or “purifying.”

14 sn My little children. The direct address by the author to his readers at the beginning of 2:1 marks a break in the pattern of the opponents’ claims (indicated by the phrase if we say followed by a negative statement in the apodosis, the “then” clause) and the author’s counterclaims (represented by if with a positive statement in the apodosis) made so far in 1:6-10. The seriousness of this last claim (in 1:10) causes the author to interrupt himself to address the readers as his faithful children and to explain to them that while he wants them not to sin, they may be assured that if they do, they can look to Jesus Christ, as their advocate with the Father, to intercede for them. After this, the last of the author’s three counter-claims in 1:5-2:2 is found in the if clause in 2:1b.

15 tn There is some dispute over the significance of the aorist tense of ἁμάρτητε (Jamarthte): (1) F. Stagg (“Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Johannine Epistles,” RevExp 67 [1970]:423-32, esp. 428) holds that the aorist is nondescriptive, saying nothing about the nature of the action itself, but only that the action has happened. This is indeed the normal aspectual value of the aorist tense in general, but there is some disagreement over whether with this particular verb there are more specific nuances of meaning. (2) M. Zerwick (Biblical Greek §251) and N. Turner (MHT 3:72) agree that the present tense of ἁμαρτάνω (Jamartanw) means “to be in a state of sin” (i.e., a sinner) while the aorist refers to specific acts of sin. Without attempting to sort out this particular dispute, it should be noted that certain verbs do have different nuances of meaning in different tenses, nuances which do not derive solely from the aspectual value of the tense per se, but from a combination of semantic factors which vary from word to word.

sn So that you may not sin. It is clear the author is not simply exhorting the readers not to be habitual or repetitive sinners, as if to imply that occasional acts of sin would be acceptable. The purpose of the author here is that the readers not sin at all, just as Jesus told the man he healed in John 5:14 “Don’t sin any more.”

16 tn The description of the Holy Spirit as “Paraclete” is unique to the Gospel of John (14:16, 26; 15:26; and 16:7). Here, in the only other use of the word in the NT, it is Jesus, not the Spirit, who is described as παράκλητος (paraklhto"). The reader should have been prepared for this interchangeability of terminology, however, by John 14:16, where Jesus told the disciples that he would ask the Father to send them ‘another’ paraclete (ἄλλος, allos, “another of the same kind”). This implies that Jesus himself had been a paraclete in his earthly ministry to the disciples. This does not answer all the questions about the meaning of the word here, though, since it is not Jesus’ role as an advocate during his earthly ministry which is in view, but his role as an advocate in heaven before the Father. The context suggests intercession in the sense of legal advocacy, as stress is placed upon the righteousness of Jesus (᾿Ιησοῦν Χριστὸν δίκαιον, Ihsoun Criston dikaion). The concept of Jesus’ intercession on behalf of believers does occur elsewhere in the NT, notably in Rom 8:34 and Heb 7:25. Something similar is taking place here, and is the best explanation of 1 John 2:1. An English translation like “advocate” or “intercessor” conveys this.

17 tn Or “Jesus Christ the righteous.”

18 tn A suitable English translation for this word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is a difficult and even controversial problem. “Expiation,” “propitiation,” and “atonement” have all been suggested. L. Morris, in a study that has become central to discussions of this topic (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 140), sees as an integral part of the meaning of the word (as in the other words in the ἱλάσκομαι [Jilaskomai] group) the idea of turning away the divine wrath, suggesting that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. It is certainly possible to see an averting of divine wrath in this context, where the sins of believers are in view and Jesus is said to be acting as Advocate on behalf of believers. R. E. Brown’s point (Epistles of John [AB], 220-21), that it is essentially cleansing from sin which is in view here and in the other use of the word in 4:10, is well taken, but the two connotations (averting wrath and cleansing) are not mutually exclusive and it is unlikely that the propitiatory aspect of Jesus’ work should be ruled out entirely in the usage in 2:2. Nevertheless, the English word “propitiation” is too technical to communicate to many modern readers, and a term like “atoning sacrifice” (given by Webster’s New International Dictionary as a definition of “propitiation”) is more appropriate here. Another term, “satisfaction,” might also convey the idea, but “satisfaction” in Roman Catholic theology is a technical term for the performance of the penance imposed by the priest on a penitent.

sn The Greek word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) behind the phrase atoning sacrifice conveys both the idea of “turning aside divine wrath” and the idea of “cleansing from sin.”

19 tn Many translations supply an understood repetition of the word “sins” here, thus: “but also for the sins of the whole world.”

20 tn The translation of καί (kai) at the beginning of 2:3 is important for understanding the argument, because a similar καί occurs at the beginning of 1:5. The use here is not just a simple continuative or connective use, but has more of a resumptive force, pointing back to the previous use in 1:5.

sn Now. The author, after discussing three claims of the opponents in 1:6, 8, and 10 and putting forward three counterclaims of his own in 1:7, 1:9, and 2:1, now returns to the theme of “God as light” introduced in 1:5. The author will now discuss how a Christian may have assurance that he or she has come to know the God who is light, again by contrast with the opponents who make the same profession of knowing God, but lack the reality of such knowledge, as their behavior makes clear.

21 tn Grk “know him.” (1) Many take the third person pronoun αὐτον (auton) to refer to Jesus Christ, since he is mentioned in 2:1 and the pronoun αὐτός (autos) at the beginning of 2:2 clearly refers to him. But (2) it is more likely that God is the referent here, since (a) the assurance the author is discussing here is assurance that one has come to know God (all the claims of the opponents in 1:5-2:11 concern knowing and having fellowship with the God who is light); (b) when Jesus Christ is explicitly mentioned as an example to follow in 1 John 2:6, the pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) is used to distinguish this from previous references with αὐτός; (c) the καί (kai) which begins 2:3 is parallel to the καί which begins 1:5, suggesting that the author is now returning to the discussion of God who is light, a theme introduced in 1:5. The author will now discuss how a Christian may have assurance that he or she has come to know the God who is light.

22 tn Grk “know him.” See the note on the phrase “know God” in 1 John 2:3 for explanation.

23 tn The referent of this pronoun is probably to be understood as God, since God is the nearest previous antecedent.

24 tn Grk “in him.”

25 tn The Greek verb μένω (menw) is commonly translated into contemporary English as “remain” or “abide,” but both of these translations have some problems: (1) “Abide” has become in some circles almost a “technical term” for some sort of special intimate fellowship or close relationship between the Christian and God, so that one may speak of Christians who are “abiding” and Christians who are not. It is accurate to say the word indicates a close, intimate (and permanent) relationship between the believer and God. However, it is very important to note that for the author of the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles every genuine Christian has this type of relationship with God, and the person who does not have this type of relationship (cf. 2 John 9) is not a believer at all (in spite of what he or she may claim). (2) On the other hand, to translate μένω as “remain” removes some of these problems, but creates others: In certain contexts, such a translation can give the impression that those who currently “remain” in this relationship with God can at some point choose not to “remain”, that is, to abandon their faith and return to an unsaved condition. While one may easily think in terms of the author’s opponents in 1 John as not “remaining,” the author makes it inescapably clear in 2:19 that these people, in spite of their claims to know God and be in fellowship with God, never really were genuine believers. (3) In an attempt to avoid both these misconceptions, this translation renders μένω as “reside” except in cases where the context indicates that “remain” is a more accurate nuance, that is, in contexts where a specific change of status or movement from one position to another is in view.

sn The Greek word μένω (menw) translated resides indicates a close, intimate (and permanent) relationship between the believer and God. It is very important to note that for the author of the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles every genuine Christian has this type of relationship with God, and the person who does not have this type of relationship (cf. 2 John 9) is not a believer at all (in spite of what he or she may claim).

26 tn Grk “in him.” Context indicates a reference to God since a different pronoun, ἐκεινος (ekeinos), is used later in the same verse to indicate a reference to Jesus. See the note on “Jesus” later in this verse.

27 tn That is, ought to behave in the same way Jesus did. “Walking” is a common NT idiom for one’s behavior or conduct.

28 tn Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus here. It is clear that ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) here does not refer to the same person as αὐτῷ (autw) in 2:6a. The switch to ἐκεῖνος indicates a change in the referent, and a reference to Jesus Christ is confirmed by the verb περιεπάτησεν (periepathsen), an activity which can only describe Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, the significance of which is one of the points of contention the author has with the opponents. In fact, ἐκεῖνος occurs 6 times in 1 John (2:6; 3:3, 5, 7, 16; and 4:17), and each one refers to Jesus Christ.

29 sn See John 13:34-35.

30 tn “Already” is not is the Greek text, but is supplied for clarity.

31 tn “In him” probably refers to Jesus Christ since the last third person pronoun in 2:6 referred to Jesus Christ and there is no indication in the context of a change in referent.

32 tn The clause beginning with ὅτι (Joti) is often taken as (1) epexegetical or (2) appositional to the commandment (ἐντολήν, entolhn) giving a further explanation or clarification of it. But the statement following the ὅτι is about light and darkness, and it is difficult to see how this has anything to do with the commandment, especially as the commandment is related to the “new commandment” of John 13:34 for believers to love one another. It is far more likely that (3) the ὅτι clause should be understood as causal, but this still does not answer the question of whether it offers the reason for writing the “new commandment” itself or the reason for the relative clause (“that is true in him and in you”). It probably gives the reason for the writing of the commandment, although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 268) thinks it refers to both.

33 sn The reference to the darkness…passing away and the true light…already shining is an allusion to John 1:5, 1:9, and 8:12. Because the author sees the victory of light over darkness as something already begun, he is writing Jesus’ commandment to love one another to the readers as a reminder to (1) hold fast to what they have already heard (see 1 John 2:7) and (2) not be influenced by the teaching of the opponents.

34 tn Grk “the one saying he is in the light and hating his brother.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” because of the contrast present in the two clauses.

35 tn Grk “his brother.” Here the term “brother” means “fellow believer” or “fellow Christian” (cf. BDAG 18 s.v. ἀδελφός 2.a). In the repeated uses of this form of address throughout the letter, it is important to remember that sometimes it refers (1) to genuine Christians (those who have remained faithful to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about who Jesus is, as outlined in the Prologue to the letter, 1:1-4; an example of this usage is 2:10; 3:14, 16), but often it refers (2) to the secessionist opponents whose views the author rejects (examples are found here at 2:9, as well as 2:11; 3:10; 3:15; 3:17; 4:20). Of course, to be technically accurate, in the latter case the reference is really to a “fellow member of the community”; the use of the term “fellow Christian” in the translation no more implies that such an individual is genuinely saved than the literal term “brother” which the author uses for such people. But a translation like “fellow member of the community” or “fellow member of the congregation” is extremely awkward and simply cannot be employed consistently throughout.

36 tn See note on the term “fellow Christian” in 2:9.

37 tn The third person pronoun αὐτῷ (autw) could refer either (1) to the person who loves his brother or (2) to the light itself which has no cause for stumbling “in it.” The following verse (2:11) views darkness as operative within a person, and the analogy with Ps 119:165, which says that the person who loves God’s law does not stumble, expresses a similar concept in relation to an individual. This evidence suggests that the person is the referent here.

38 sn The one who hates his fellow Christian. The author’s paradigm for the opponents portrays them as those who show hatred for fellow Christians (Grk “brothers,” but not referring to one’s physical siblings). This charge will be much more fully developed in chap. 3, where the author will compare the opponents to Cain (who is the model for one who hates a brother, since he ultimately murdered his own brother). In 1 John 3:17 the specific charge against the opponents will be failing to give material aid to a brother in need.

39 sn 1 John 2:3-11. The section 2:3-11 contains three claims to intimate knowledge of God, each introduced by the phrase the one who says (participles in the Greek text) in 2:4, 6, and 9. As with the three claims beginning with “if” in the previous section (1:6, 8, 10), these indirectly reflect the claims of the opponents. Each claim is followed by the author’s evaluation and its implications.



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