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1 John 3:14-18

Context
3:14 We know that 1  we have crossed over 2  from death to life 3  because 4  we love our fellow Christians. 5  The one who does not love remains in death. 6  3:15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian 7  is a murderer, 8  and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing 9  in him. 3:16 We have come to know love by this: 10  that Jesus 11  laid down 12  his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. 3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions 13  and sees his fellow Christian 14  in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God 15  reside 16  in such a person? 17 

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

1 tn The first ὅτι (Joti) clause, following a verb of perception, introduces an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what the readers are assumed to know: that they have passed over from death to life, that is, that they possess eternal life. The author gives a similar reassurance to his readers in 5:13. Alternation between the verbs οἶδα (oida) and γινώσκω (ginwskw) in 1 John is probably a matter of stylistic variation (of which the writer is extremely fond) rather than indicative of a subtle difference in meaning.

2 tn This verb essentially means “to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over,” according to BDAG 638 s.v. μεταβαίνω 1.

sn In John 13:1 the same Greek verb translated crossed over here is used to refer to Jesus’ departure from this world as he returns to the Father. Here it is used figuratively to refer to the believer’s transfer from the state of (spiritual) death to the state of (spiritual) life. This use is paralleled in John 5:24, where Jesus states, “the person who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over (same verb) from death to life.”

3 sn Cf. John 5:24, where this phrase also occurs.

4 tn The second ὅτι (Joti) clause in 3:14 is also related to οἴδαμεν (oidamen), but in this case the ὅτι is causal, giving the reason why the readers know that they have passed from death to life: because they love the brothers.

5 tn See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.

sn Because we love our fellow Christians. This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:35, where he states, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” As in 1 John 2:3 and 5, obedience becomes the basis for assurance. But the relationship between loving one’s fellow Christian (Grk “brother”) and possessing eternal life goes beyond a proof or external test. Our love for our fellow Christians is in fact a form of God’s love for us because as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, all love comes from God (cf. 4:7-11). Therefore he can add the next line of 3:14, “the one who does not love remains in death.” Why? Because such a person does not have God’s love residing in them at all. Rather, this person can be described as a “murderer” – as the following verse goes on to do. Note also that the author’s description here of the person who does not love as remaining in death is another way of describing a person who remains in darkness, which is a description of unbelievers in John 12:46. This provides further confirmation of the spiritual state of the author’s opponents in 2:9-11.

6 sn The one who does not love remains in death. Again, the author has the secessionist opponents in view. Their refusal to show love for the brothers demonstrates that they have not made the transition from (spiritual) death to (spiritual) life, but instead have remained in a state of (spiritual) death.

7 tn See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.

8 sn Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer. On one level it is easy to see how the author could say this; the person who hates his brother is one and the same with the person who murders his brother. Behind the usage here, however, is John 8:44, the only other occurrence of the Greek word translated murderer (ἀνθρωποκτόνος, anqrwpoktonos) in the NT, where the devil is described as a “murderer from the beginning.” John 8:44 refers to the devil’s role in bringing death to Adam and Eve, but even more to his involvement (not directly mentioned in the Genesis account, but elaborated in the intertestamental literature, especially the writings of Philo) in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. This was the first incident of murder in human history and also the first outward demonstration of the full implications of sin’s entry into the world. Ultimately, then, the devil is behind murder, just as he was behind Cain’s murder of Abel. When the hater kills, he shows himself to be a child of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:10). Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity.

9 tn The verb μένω (menw) in 3:15 refers to a spiritual reality (eternal life) which in this case does not reside in the person in question. To speak in terms of eternal life not “residing” in such an individual is not to imply that at some time in the past this person did possess eternal life and subsequently lost it, however. The previous verse (3:14) makes it clear that the individual under discussion here has “remained” in death (the realm of spiritual death) and so has never possessed eternal life to begin with, no matter what he may have claimed. Taken together with the use of μένω in 3:14, the use here implies that the opponents have “remained” in death all along, and have not ever been genuine believers. Thus “residing” rather than “remaining” is used as the translation for μένουσαν (menousan) here.

10 tn Here the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) is followed by a ὅτι (Joti) clause which is epexegetical (or explanatory), and thus ἐν τούτῳ refers to what follows.

11 tn Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus. The mention of the sacrificial death in 3:16 (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν, Juper hmwn thn yuchn autou eqhken) points to Jesus as the referent here. (This provides further confirmation that ἐκεῖνος [ekeinos] in 2:6; 3:3, 5, and 7 refers to Jesus.)

12 sn References to the fact that Jesus laid down his life using the verb τίθημι (tiqhmi) are unique to the Gospel of John (10:11, 15, 17, 18; 13:37, 38; 15:13) and 1 John (only here). From John’s perspective Jesus’ act in giving up his life sacrificially was a voluntary one; Jesus was always completely in control of the situation surrounding his arrest, trials, and crucifixion (see John 10:18). There is a parallel with 1 John 2:6 – there, as here, the life of Jesus (during his earthly ministry) becomes the example for believers to follow. This in turn underscores the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (especially his sacrificial death on the cross), a point of contention between the author and his opponents in 1 John. See 1 John 4:10 for a further parallel.

13 tn Here βίος (bios) refers to one’s means of subsistence – material goods or property (BDAG 177 s.v. 2).

sn Note the vivid contrast with Jesus’ example in the preceding verse: He was willing to lay down his very life, but the person in view in 3:17 is not even willing to lay down part of his material possessions for the sake of his brother.

14 tn See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.

15 tn Here a subjective genitive, indicating God’s love for us – the love which comes from God – appears more likely because of the parallelism with “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον, zwhn aiwnion) in 3:15, which also comes from God.

sn The love of God. The author is not saying that the person who does not love his brother cannot love God either (although this may be true enough), but rather that the person who does not love his brother shows by this failure to love that he does not have any of the love which comes from God ‘residing’ in him (the Greek verb used is μένω [menw]). Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity.

16 sn Once again the verb μένω (menw) is used of a spiritual reality (in this case the love of God) which does or does not reside in a person. Although the author uses the indefinite relative whoever (Grk ὃς δ᾿ ἄν, Jos dan), it is clear that he has the opponents in view here. This is the only specific moral fault he ever charges the opponents with in the entire letter. It is also clear that the author sees it as impossible that such a person, who refuses to offer help in his brother’s time of need (and thus ‘hates’ his brother rather than ‘loving’ him, cf. 3:15) can have any of the love which comes from God residing in him. This person, from the author’s dualistic ‘either/or’ perspective, cannot be a believer. The semantic force of the deliberative rhetorical question, “How can the love of God reside in such a person?”, is therefore a declarative statement about the spiritual condition of the opponents: “The love of God cannot possibly reside in such a person.”

17 sn How can the love of God reside in such a person? is a rhetorical question which clearly anticipates a negative answer: The love of God cannot reside in such a person.

18 sn The noun truth here has been interpreted in various ways: (1) There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, truth (ἀληθείᾳ, alhqeia) in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the way in which believers are to love. If the two pairs of nouns are compared, however, it is hard to see how the second noun with tongue (γλώσσῃ, glwssh) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. (2) It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: Words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth.



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