4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because 1 love is from God, and everyone who loves 2 has been fathered 3 by God and knows God. 4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 4 4:9 By this 5 the love of God 6 is revealed in us: 7 that God has sent his one and only 8 Son into the world so that we may live through him. 4:10 In this 9 is love: not that 10 we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice 11 for our sins.
1 John 4:20-21Context
4:20 If anyone says 14 “I love God” and yet 15 hates his fellow Christian, 16 he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian 17 whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 18 4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that 19 the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian 20 too.
1 tn This ὅτι (Joti) is causal, giving the reason why the readers, as believers, ought to love one another: because love comes from God. The next clause, introduced by καί (kai), does not give a second reason (i.e., is not related to the ὅτι clause), but introduces a second and additional thought: Everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.
sn From the author’s “either/or” perspective (which tends to see things in terms of polar opposites) the use of a generalization like everyone who presents a way of categorizing the opponents on the one hand and the recipients, whom the author regards as genuine Christians, on the other. Thus everyone who loves refers to all true Christians, who give evidence by their love for one another that they have indeed been begotten by God and are thus God’s children. The opposite situation is described in the following verse, 4:8, where (although everyone [πᾶς, pas] is omitted) it is clear that a contrast is intended.
4 tn The author proclaims in 4:8 ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (Jo qeo" agaph estin), 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.
5 tn Once again there is the problem of determining whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. This is the first of 5 uses of the phrase in the present section (4:9, 10, 13, 17; 5:2). In this case (as also in the next two instances) there is a ὅτι (Joti) clause following which is related and which explains (i.e., which is epexegetical to) the phrase ἐν τούτῳ. Thus the meaning here is, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his only Son into the world in order that we might live through him.”
6 tn In terms of syntax the force of the genitive τοῦ θεοῦ (tou qeou) may be (1) objective, (2) subjective, or (3) both. The phrase occurs for the first time in the letter in 2:5. Here in 4:9 the epexegetical ὅτι (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.
7 tn 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). The latter is probable, because in the context the concept of God’s indwelling of the believer is mentioned in 4:12: “God resides (μένει, menei) in us.”
8 sn Although the word translated one and only (μονογενής, monogenhs) is often rendered “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological bird called the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [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 NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, 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).
9 tn Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining whether the referent of this phrase (1) precedes or (2) follows. Here there are two ὅτι (Joti) clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (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.”
10 tn The two ὅτι (Joti) clauses are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) which begins the verse.
sn 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 the atoning 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 denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.
11 sn As explained at 2:2, inherent in the meaning of the word translated atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. 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. 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. The contemporary English “atoning sacrifice” communicates this idea more effectively.
12 tn Grk “and.” The Greek conjunction καί (kai) introduces the apodosis of the conditional sentence.
13 tn This is a first-class conditional sentence with εἰ (ei) + aorist indicative in the protasis. Reality is assumed for the sake of argument with a first-class condition.
sn The author here assumes the reality of the protasis (the “if” clause), which his recipients, as believers, would also be expected to agree with: Assuming that God has loved us in this way, then it follows that we also ought to love one another. God’s act of love in sending his Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (v. 10) ought to motivate us as believers to love one another in a similar sacrificial fashion. The author made the same point already in 1 John 3:16. But this failure to show love for fellow believers is just what the opponents are doing: In 1 John 3:17 the author charged them with refusing to love their brothers by withholding needed material assistance. By their failure to love the brothers sacrificially according to the example Jesus set for believers, the opponents have demonstrated again the falsity of their claims to love God and know God (see 1 John 2:9).
14 tn Grk “if anyone should say…”
15 tn “Yet” is supplied to bring out the contrast.
18 sn In 4:20 the author again describes the opponents, who claim to love God. Their failure to show love for their fellow Christians proves their claim to know God to be false: The one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
19 tn The ἵνα (Jina) clause in 4:21 could be giving (1) the purpose or (2) 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 ἵνα clause as (3) epexegetical to the pronoun ταύτην (tauthn) at the beginning of 4:21 and thus explaining what the commandment consists of: “that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”