5:2 By this 1 we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments. 5:3 For 2 this is the love of God: 3 that we keep his commandments. 4 And his commandments do not weigh us down, 5:4 because 5 everyone 6 who has been fathered by God 7 conquers 8 the world. 9
1 tn Once more there is the familiar difficulty of determining whether the phrase refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. Here, because ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) is followed by a clause introduced by ὅταν (Jotan) which appears to be related, it is best to understand ἐν τούτῳ as referring to what follows. The following ὅταν clause is epexegetical to ἐν τούτῳ, 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.”
2 tn The force of the γάρ (gar) at the beginning of 5:3 is similar to another introductory formula used by the author of 1 John, καὶ αὕτη ἐστίν (kai Jauth estin; used in 1:5; 5:4, 11, and 14). The γάρ draws an inference based on the preceding statements, particularly the one in 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 ἵνα (Jina) clause makes clear, loving God consists in keeping his commandments.
3 tn Once again the genitive could be understood as (1) objective, (2) subjective, or (3) both. 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.
4 tn Contrary to the punctuation of NA27 and UBS4, it is best to place a full stop (period) following τηρῶμεν (thrwmen) in 5:3. The subordinate clause introduced by ὅτι (Joti) at the beginning of 5:4 is related to the second half of 5:3 which begins with καί (kai). Καί is commonly used by the author to begin a new sentence, probably by analogy with the Hebrew vav consecutive.
5 tn The explicit reason the commandments of God are not burdensome to the believer is given by the ὅτι (Joti) clause at the beginning of 5:4. It is because “everyone who is begotten by God conquers the world.”
6 tn The masculine might have been expected here rather than the neuter πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (pan to gegennhmenon ek tou qeou) to refer to the person who is fathered by God. However, BDF §138.1 explains that “the neuter is sometimes used with respect to persons if it is not the individuals but a generic quality that is to be emphasized”; this seems to be the case here, where a collective aspect is in view: As a group, all those who have been begotten by God, that is, all true believers, overcome the world.
7 sn The author is once more looking at the situation antithetically (in ‘either/or’ terms) as he sees the readers on the one hand as true believers (everyone who is fathered by God) 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.
8 tn Or “overcomes.”
9 sn 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 conquers (νικάω, nikaw) previously to describe the believer’s victory over the enemy, the evil one himself, in 2:13-14, and over the secessionist opponents, described as “false prophets” in 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 (true believers) 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.
10 tn Grk “And this.”
11 tn The standard English translation for ἡ νίκη (Jh nikh) is “victory” (BDAG 673 s.v.) but this does not preserve the relationship with the cognate verb νικάω (nikaw; used in 2:13,14 and present in this context in participial form in 5:4b and 5:5). One alternative would be “conquest,” although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 570) suggests “conquering power” as a translation for ἡ νίκη since here it is a metonymy for the means of victory or the power that gives victory, referring to believers’ faith.
12 tn The use of the aorist participle (ἡ νικήσασα, Jh nikhsasa) to refer to faith as the conquering power that “has conquered the world” in 5:4b is problematic. Debate here centers over the temporal value of the aorist participle: (1) It may indicate an action contemporaneous with the (present tense) main verb, in which case the alternation between aorist participle in 5:4b and present participle in 5:5 is one more example of the author’s love of stylistic variation with no difference in meaning. (2) Nevertheless, an aorist participle with a present tense main verb would normally indicate an action antecedent to that of the main verb, so that the aorist participle would describe a past action. That is the most probable here. Thus the aorist participle stresses that the conquest of the world is something that has already been accomplished.
13 tn After a verb of perception (the participle ὁ πιστεύων [Jo pisteuwn]) the ὅτι (Joti) in 5:5 introduces indirect discourse, a declarative or recitative clause giving the content of what the person named by the participle (ὁ πιστεύων) believes: “that Jesus is the Son of God.” As in 4:15, such a confession constitutes a problem for the author’s opponents but not for his readers who are genuine believers.