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1 John 1:1-4

The Prologue to the Letter

1:1 This is what we proclaim to you: 1  what was from the beginning, 2  what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 1:2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce 3  to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 4  1:3 What we have seen and heard we announce 5  to you too, so that 6  you may have fellowship 7  with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 1:4 Thus 8  we are writing these things so that 9  our 10  joy may be complete. 11 

1 tn The phrase “This is what we proclaim to you” is not in the Greek text, but has been supplied to clarify the English. The main verb which governs all of these relative clauses is ἀπαγγέλλομεν (apangellomen) in v. 3. This is important for the proper understanding of the relative clauses in v. 1, because the main verb ἀπαγγέλλομεν in v. 3 makes it clear that all of the relative clauses in vv. 1 and 3 are the objects of the author’s proclamation to the readers rather than the subjects. To indicate this the phrase “This is what we proclaim to you” has been supplied at the beginning of v. 1.

2 tn Grk “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard…”

3 tn Or “proclaim.”

4 tn In the Greek text the prologue to 1 John (vv. 1-4) makes up a single sentence. This is awkward in Greek, and a literal translation produces almost impossible English. For this reason the present translation places a period at the end of v. 2 and another at the end of v. 3. The material in parentheses in v. 1 begins the first of three parenthetical interruptions in the grammatical sequence of the prologue (the second is the entirety of v. 2 and the third is the latter part of v. 3). This is because of the awkwardness of connecting the prepositional phrase with what precedes, an awkwardness not immediately obvious in most English translations: “what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the word of life…” As J. Bonsirven (Épîtres de Saint Jean [CNT], 67) noted, while one may hear about the word of life, it is more difficult to see about the word of life, and impossible to feel with one’s hands about the word of life. Rather than being the object of any of the verbs in v. 1, the prepositional phrase at the end of v. 1 (“concerning the word of life…”) is more likely a parenthetical clarification intended to specify the subject of the eyewitness testimony which the verbs in v. 1 describe. A parallel for such parenthetical explanation may be found in John 1:12 (τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, toi" pisteuousin ei" to onoma autou).

5 tn Or “proclaim.”

6 tn The ἵνα (Jina) here indicates purpose.

7 tn Or “communion”; or “association” (a reality shared in common, so in this case, “genuine association”). This term also occurs in vv. 6, 7.

8 tn “Thus” is supplied to indicated the resultative nature of the Greek conjunction καί (kai) at the beginning of v. 4.

9 tn The ἵνα (Jina) here indicates purpose.

10 tc A number of mss, some of them important (A C K P 33 81 1505 1739 pm syh bo), read ὑμῶν (Jumwn, “your”) rather than ἡμῶν (Jhmwn, “our”), which is found in somewhat better witnesses (א B L Ψ 049 1241 pm syp sa). Although the majority of Byzantine minuscules are split between the two readings, the Textus Receptus reads ὑμῶν. It is possible that ὑμῶν represents a scribal assimilation to John 16:24. As far as the immediate context is concerned, either reading could possibly be original, since the recipients have already been mentioned in 1:2 (ὑμῖν, Jumin) and 1:3 (ὑμῖν), while it might seem more natural for the author to be concerned about the fulfillment of his own joy than his readers’ (cf. 2 John 4, 12; 3 John 3). Overall, the first person pronoun is preferred on both external and internal grounds.

11 tn Grk “be fulfilled.”

sn This is what we proclaim to you…so that our joy may be complete. The prologue to 1 John (1:1-4) has many similarities to the prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18). Like the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, the prologue to 1 John introduces the reader to important themes which will be more fully developed later in the body of the work. In the case of 1 John, three of these are: (1) the importance of eyewitness testimony to who Jesus is (cf. 4:14, 5:6-12), (2) the importance of the earthly ministry of Jesus as a part of God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ (cf. 4:2, 5:6), and (3) the eternal life available to believers in Jesus Christ (5:11-12, 5:20). Like the rest of the letter, the prologue to 1 John does not contain any of the usual features associated with a letter in NT times, such as an opening formula, the name of the author or sender, the name(s) of the addressee(s), a formal greeting, or a health wish or expression of remembrance. The author of 1 John begins the prologue with an emphasis on the eyewitness nature of his testimony. He then transitions to a focus on the readers of the letter by emphasizing the proclamation of this eyewitness (apostolic) testimony to them. The purpose of this proclamation is so that the readers might share in fellowship with the author, a true fellowship which is with the Father and the Son as well. To guarantee this maintenance of fellowship the author is writing the letter itself (line 4a). Thus, in spite of the convoluted structure of the prologue in which the author’s thought turns back on itself several times, there is a discernible progression in his thought which ultimately expresses itself in the reason for the writing of the letter (later expressed again in slightly different form in the purpose statement of 5:13).

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