Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
PORTION OF THE
WITNESS TO THE
REPEATED AT THE
1. Reason why our "brother"
is entitled to such love, namely, because he is "born (begotten)
of God": so that if we want to show our love to God, we must
show it to God's visible representative.
Whosoever--Greek, "Everyone that." He could not be our
"Jesus" (God-Saviour) unless He were "the Christ"; for He could not
reveal the way of salvation, except He were a prophet: He could
not work out that salvation, except He were a priest: He could
not confer that salvation upon us, except He were a king: He
could not be prophet, priest, and king, except He were
the Christ [PEARSON, Exposition of the
born--Translate, "begotten," as in the latter part of the verse,
the Greek being the same. Christ is the "only-begotten Son" by
generation; we become begotten sons of God by
regeneration and adoption.
every one that loveth him that begat--sincerely, not in mere
loveth him also that is begotten of him--namely, "his brethren"
2. By--Greek, "In." As our love to the brethren is
the sign and test of our love to God, so (John here says) our
love to God (tested by our "keeping his commandments") is,
conversely, the ground and only true basis of love to our
we know--John means here, not the outward criteria of
genuine brotherly love, but the inward spiritual criteria of it,
consciousness of love to God manifested in a hearty keeping of
His commandments. When we have this inwardly and outwardly confirmed
love to God, we can know assuredly that we truly love
the children of God. "Love to one's brother is prior,
according to the order of nature (see on
love to God is so, according to the order of grace
At one time the former is more immediately known, at another time the
latter, according as the mind is more engaged in human relations or in
what concerns the divine honor" [ESTIUS]. John
shows what true love is, namely, that which is referred to God
as its first object. As previously John urged the effect, so now he
urges the cause. For he wishes mutual love to be so cultivated among
us, as that God should always be placed first
3. this is--the love of God consists in this.
not grievous--as so many think them. It is "the way of the
transgressor" that "is hard." What makes them to the regenerate "not
grievous," is faith which "overcometh the world"
in proportion as faith is strong, the grievousness of God's
commandments to the rebellious flesh is overcome. The reason why
believers feel any degree of irksomeness in God's commandments is, they
do not realize fully by faith the privileges of their spiritual
4. For--(See on
The reason why "His commandments are not grievous." Though there is a
conflict in keeping them, the sue for the whole body of the regenerate
is victory over every opposing influence; meanwhile there is a present
joy to each believer in keeping them which makes them "not
whatsoever--Greek, "all that is begotten of God."
The neuter expresses the universal whole, or aggregate of the
regenerate, regarded as one collective body
Joh 3:6; 6:37, 39,
"where BENGEL remarks, that in Jesus' discourses,
what the Father has given Him is called, in the singular number and
neuter gender, all whatsoever; those who come to the Son
are described in the masculine gender and plural number, they
all, or singular, every one. The Father has given, as it
were, the whole mass to the Son, that all whom He gave may be
one whole: that universal whole the Son singly evolves,
in the execution of the divine plan."
the world--all that is opposed to keeping the commandments of
God, or draws us off from God, in this world, including our corrupt
flesh, on which the world's blandishments or threats act, as
also including Satan, the prince of this world
(Joh 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
this is the victory that overcometh--Greek aorist,
". . . that hath (already) overcome the world":
the victory (where faith is) hereby is implied as having
been already obtained
(1Jo 2:13; 4:4).
5. Who--"Who" else "but he that believeth that Jesus is
the Son of God:" "the Christ"
Confirming, by a triumphant question defying all contradiction, as an
that the victory which overcomes the world is faith. For
it is by believing: that we are made one with Jesus the Son
of God, so that we partake of His victory over the world,
and have dwelling in us One greater than he who is in the world
"Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be
affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a
Christian, and endowed with this faith" [EPISCOPIUS in ALFORD].
6. This--the Person mentioned in
he that came by water and blood--"by water," when His ministry
was inaugurated by baptism in the Jordan, and He received the Father's
testimony to His Messiahship and divine Sonship. Compare
"believeth that Jesus is the Son of God," with
Joh 1:33, 34,
"The Spirit . . . remaining on Him . . . I saw and
bare record that this is the Son of God"; and
below, "there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit,
and the water, and the blood." Corresponding to this is the baptism
of water and the Spirit which He has instituted as a standing seal
and mean of initiatory incorporation with Him.
and blood--He came by "the blood of His cross" (so "by" is used,
"by," that is, with, "His own blood He entered in once into the
holy place"): a fact seen and so solemnly witnessed to by
John. "These two past facts in the Lord's life are this abiding
testimony to us, by virtue of the permanent application to us of
their cleansing and atoning power."
Jesus Christ--not a mere appellation, but a solemn assertion of
the Lord's Person and Messiahship.
not by, &c.--Greek, "not IN
the water only, but IN the water and
IN (so oldest manuscripts add) the blood."
As "by" implies the mean through, or with, which
He came: so "in," the element in which He came. "The"
implies that the water and the blood were sacred and
well-known symbols. John Baptist came only baptizing with water, and
therefore was not the Messiah. Jesus came first to undergo
Himself the double baptism of water and blood, and then to baptize us
with the Spirit-cleansing, of which water is the sacramental
seal, and with His atoning blood, the efficacy of which, once
for all shed, is perpetual in the Church; and therefore is the
Messiah. It was His shed blood which first gave water
baptism its spiritual significancy. We are baptized into His
death: the grand point of union between us and Him, and, through
Him, between us and God.
it is the Spirit, &c.--The Holy Spirit is an additional
besides the water and the blood, to Jesus' Sonship
and Messiahship. The Spirit attested these truths at Jesus'
baptism by descending on Him, and throughout His ministry by enabling
Him to speak and do what man never before or since has spoken or, done;
and "it is the Spirit that beareth witness" of Christ, now permanently
in the Church: both in the inspired New Testament Scriptures, and in
the hearts of believers, and in the spiritual reception of baptism and
the Lord's Supper.
because the Spirit is truth--It is His essential truth
which gives His witness such infallible authority.
7. three--Two or three witnesses were required by law to
constitute adequate testimony. The only Greek manuscripts in
any form which support the words, "in heaven, the Father, the Word,
and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one; and there are three that
bear witness in earth," are the Montfortianus of Dublin, copied
evidently from the modern Latin Vulgate; the Ravianus,
copied from the Complutensian Polyglot; a manuscript at Naples,
with the words added in the Margin by a recent hand;
Ottobonianus, 298, of the fifteenth century, the Greek of
which is a mere translation of the accompanying Latin. All the
old versions omit the words. The oldest manuscripts of the
Vulgate omit them: the earliest Vulgate manuscript which
has them being Wizanburgensis, 99, of the eighth century. A
scholium quoted in Matthæi, shows that the words did not
arise from fraud; for in the words, in all Greek manuscripts
"there are three that bear record," as the Scholiast notices,
the word "three" is masculine, because the three things (the
Spirit, the water, and the blood) are SYMBOLS
OF THE TRINITY. To this CYPRIAN, 196, also refers, "Of the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit, it is written, 'And these three are one' (a
unity)." There must be some mystical truth implied in using
"three" (Greek) in the masculine, though the
antecedents, "Spirit, water, and blood," are neuter. That THE TRINITY was the truth meant is
a natural inference: the triad specified pointing to a still Higher
Trinity; as is plain also from
"the witness of GOD," referring to the
Trinity alluded to in the Spirit, water, and blood. It was
therefore first written as a marginal comment to complete the
sense of the text, and then, as early at least as the eighth
century, was introduced into the text of the Latin Vulgate. The
testimony, however, could only be borne on earth to men, not in
heaven. The marginal comment, therefore, that inserted "in
heaven," was inappropriate. It is on earth that the context
evidently requires the witness of the three, the Spirit, the
water, and the blood, to be borne: mystically setting forth
the divine triune witnesses, the Father, the Spirit, and the
Son. LUECKE notices as internal evidence against
the words, John never uses "the Father" and "the Word" as correlates,
but, like other New Testament writers, associates "the Son" with "the
Father," and always refers "the Word" to "God" as its correlate, not
"the Father." Vigilius, at the end of the fifth century, is the first
who quotes the disputed words as in the text; but no Greek
manuscript earlier than the fifteenth is extant with them. The
term "Trinity" occurs first in the third century in TERTULLIAN [Against Praxeas, 3].
8. agree in one--"tend unto one result"; their agreeing
testimony to Jesus' Sonship and Messiahship they give by the
sacramental grace in the water of baptism, received by the
penitent believer, by the atoning efficacy of His blood, and by
the internal witness of His Spirit
answering to the testimony given to Jesus' Sonship and
Messiahship by His baptism, His crucifixion, and the Spirit's
manifestations in Him (see on
It was by His coming by water (that is, His baptism in Jordan)
that Jesus was solemnly inaugurated in office, and revealed Himself as
Messiah; this must have been peculiarly important in John's estimation,
who was first led to Christ by the testimony of the Baptist. By the
baptism then received by Christ, and by His redeeming
blood-shedding, and by that which the Spirit of God, whose
witness is infallible, has effected, and still effects, by Him, the
Spirit, the water, and the blood, unite, as the
threefold witness, to verify His divine Messiahship [NEANDER].
9. If, &c.--We do accept (and rightly so) the witness of
veracious men, fallible though they be; much more ought we to accept
the infallible witness of God (the Father). "The testimony of
the Father is, as it were, the basis of the testimony of the Word and
of the Holy Spirit; just as the testimony of the Spirit is, as
it were, the basis of the testimony of the water and the
for--This principle applies in the present case,
which--in the oldest manuscripts, "because He hath given
testimony concerning His Son." What that testimony is we find above in
1Jo 5:1, 5,
"Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God"; and below in
1Jo 5:10, 11.
10. hath the witness--of God, by His Spirit
in himself--God's Spirit dwelling in him and witnessing
that "Jesus is the Lord," "the Christ," and "the Son of God"
(1Jo 5:1, 5).
The witness of the Spirit in the believer himself to his
own sonship is not here expressed, but follows as a consequence of
believing the witness of God to Jesus' divine Sonship.
believeth not God--credits not His witness.
made him a liar--a consequence which many who virtually, or even
avowedly, do not believe, may well startle back from as fearful
blasphemy and presumption
believeth not the record--Greek, "believeth not
IN the record, or witness." Refusal to
credit God's testimony ("believeth not God") is involved in
refusal to believe IN (to rest one's trust
in) Jesus Christ, the object of God's record or
testimony. "Divine "faith" is an assent unto something as
credible upon the testimony of God. This is the highest kind of
faith; because the object hath the highest credibility, because
grounded upon the testimony of God, which is infallible" [PEARSON, Exposition of the Creed]. "The authority
on which we believe is divine; the doctrine which we follow is divine"
gave--Greek, "hath testified, and now testifies."
11. hath given--Greek, aorist: "gave" once for all. Not
only "promised" it.
life is in his Son--essentially
(Joh 1:4; 11:25; 14:6);
[LANGE in ALFORD]. It is in
the second Adam, the Son of God, that this life is secured to
us, which, if left to depend on us, we should lose, like the first
12. the Son . . . life--Greek,
"THE life." BENGEL remarks,
The verse has two clauses: in the former the Son is mentioned without
the addition "of God," for believers know the Son: in the second
clause the addition "of God" is made, that unbelievers may know thereby
what a serious thing it is not to have Him. In the former clause "has"
bears the emphasis; in the second, life. To have the Son
is to be able to say as the bride, "I am my Beloved's, and my
Beloved is mine"
Faith is the mean whereby the regenerate
HAVE Christ as a present possession, and in
having Him have life in its germ and reality now, and shall have
life in its fully developed manifestation hereafter. Eternal
life here is: (1) initial, and is an earnest of that which
is to follow; in the intermediate state (2) partial, belonging
but to a part of a man, though that is his nobler part, the soul
separated from the body; at and after the resurrection (3)
perfectional. This life is not only natural, consisting of the
union of the soul and the body (as that of the reprobate in eternal
pain, which ought to be termed death eternal, not life),
but also spiritual, the union of the soul to God, and supremely blessed
for ever (for life is another term for happiness) [PEARSON, Exposition of the Creed].
13. The oldest manuscripts and versions read, "These things have
I written unto you [omitting 'that believe on the name of the Son of
God'] that ye may know that ye have eternal life (compare
THOSE (of you I mean) WHO
believe (not as English Version reads, 'and that ye may
believe') on the name of the Son of God." English Version,
in the latter clause, will mean, "that ye may continue to
believe," &c. (compare
These things--This Epistle. He, towards the close of his Gospel
(Joh 20:30, 31),
wrote similarly, stating his purpose in having written. In
he states the object of his writing this Epistle to be, "that your joy
may be full." To "know that we have eternal life" is the sure
way to "joy in God."
14. the confidence--boldness
in prayer, which results from knowing that we have eternal life
1Jo 3:19, 22).
according to his will--which is the believer's will, and which
is therefore no restraint to his prayers. In so far as God's will is
not our will, we are not abiding in faith, and our prayers are not
accepted. ALFORD well says, If we knew
God's will thoroughly, and submitted to it heartily, it would be
impossible for us to ask anything for the spirit or for the body which
He should not perform; it is this ideal state which the apostle has in
view. It is the Spirit who teaches us inwardly, and Himself in
us asks according to the will of God.
15. hear--Greek, "that He heareth us."
we have the petitions that we desired of him--We have, as
present possessions, everything whatsoever we desired
(asked) from Him. Not one of our past prayers
offered in faith, according to His will, is lost. Like Hannah,
we can rejoice over them as granted even before the event; and can
recognize the event when it comes to pass, as not from chance, but
obtained by our past prayers. Compare also Jehoshaphat's believing
confidence in the issue of his prayers, so much so that he appointed
singers to praise the Lord beforehand.
16. If any . . . see--on any particular occasion;
his brother--a fellow Christian.
sin a sin--in the act of sinning, and continuing in the sin:
not unto death--provided that it is not unto death.
he shall give--The asker shall be the means, by his
intercessory prayer, of God giving life to the sinning brother.
Kindly reproof ought to accompany his intercessions. Life was in
process of being forfeited by the sinning brother when the believer's
intercession obtained its restoration.
for them--resuming the proviso put forth in the beginning of the
verse. "Provided that the sin is not unto death." "Shall give life," I
say, to, that is, obtain life "for (in the case of) them
that sin not unto death."
I do not say that he shall pray for it--The Greek for
"pray" means a REQUEST as of one on an equality,
or at least on terms of familiarity, with him from whom the favor is
sought. "The Christian intercessor for his brethren, John declares,
shall not assume the authority which would be implied in making request
for a sinner who has sinned the sin unto death
(1Sa 15:35; 16:1;
that it might be forgiven him" [TRENCH, Greek
Synonyms of the New Testament]. Compare
Greek "ask" implies the humble petition of an inferior; so that
our Lord never uses it, but always uses (Greek) "request."
Martha, from ignorance, once uses "ask" in His case
"Asking" for a brother sinning not unto death, is a humble petition in
consonance with God's will. To "request" for a sin unto death
[intercede, as it were, authoritatively for it, as though we
were more merciful than God] would savor of presumption; prescribing to
God in a matter which lies out of the bounds of our brotherly yearning
(because one sinning unto death would thereby be demonstrated not to
be, nor ever to have been, truly a brother,
how He shall inflict and withhold His righteous judgments. Jesus
Himself intercedes, not for the world which hardens itself in unbelief,
but for those given to Him out of the world.
17. "Every unrighteousness (even that of believers, compare
1Jo 1:9; 3:4.
Every coming short of right) is sin"; (but) not every sin is the
sin unto death.
and there is a sin not unto death--in the case of which,
therefore, believers may intercede. Death and life stand
in correlative opposition
The sin unto death must be one tending "towards" (so the
Greek), and so resulting in, death. ALFORD makes it to be an appreciable ACT of sin, namely,
the denying Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (in contrast
to confess this truth,
1Jo 5:1, 5),
1Jo 2:19, 22; 4:2, 3; 5:10.
Such wilful deniers of Christ are not to be received into one's house,
or wished "God speed." Still, I think with BENGEL,
not merely the act, but also the state of apostasy
accompanying the act, is included--a "state of soul in which
faith, love, and hope, in short, the new life, is extinguished. The
chief commandment is faith and love. Therefore, the chief
sin is that by which faith and love are destroyed. In the former case
is life; in the latter, death. As long as it is not evident (see
on 'see') that it is a sin unto death, it is lawful to pray. But when
it is deliberate rejection of grace, and the man puts from him life
thereby, how can others procure for him life?" Contrast
Mt 12:31, 32
as to the wilful rejection of Christ, and resistance to the Holy
Ghost's plain testimony to Him as the divine Messiah. Jesus, on the
cross, pleaded only for those who KNEW NOT what
they were doing in crucifying Him, not for those wilfully resisting
grace and knowledge. If we pray for the impenitent, it must be
with humble reference of the matter to God's will, not with the
intercessory request which we should offer for a brother
We know--Thrice repeated emphatically, to enforce the three
truths which the words preface, as matters of the brethren's joint
experimental knowledge. This
warns against abusing
1Jo 5:16, 17,
as warranting carnal security.
whosoever--Greek, "every one who." Not only advanced
believers, but every one who is born again, "sinneth not."
he that is begotten--Greek aorist, "has been (once for
all in past time) begotten of God"; in the beginning of the
verse it is perfect. "Is begotten," or "born," as a continuing
keepeth himself--The Vulgate translates, "The having been
begotten of God keepeth HIM" (so one of the oldest
manuscripts reads): so ALFORD. Literally, "He
having been begotten of God (nominative pendent), it (the divine
generation implied in the nominative) keepeth him." So
"His seed remaineth in him." Still, in English Version reading,
God's working by His Spirit inwardly, and man's working under the power
of that Spirit as a responsible agent, is what often occurs elsewhere.
That God must keep us, if we are to keep ourselves
from evil, is certain. Compare
especially with this verse.
that wicked one toucheth him not--so as to hurt him. In so far
as he realizes his regeneration-life, the prince of this world hath
nothing in him to fasten his deadly temptations on, as in Christ's
own case. His divine regeneration has severed once for all his
connection with the prince of this world.
19. world lieth in wickedness--rather, "lieth in the wicked
one," as the Greek is translated in
1Jo 2:13, 14;
Joh 17:14, 15.
The world lieth in the power of, and abiding in, the wicked one,
as the resting-place and lord of his slaves; compare "abideth in
"we are in Him that is true." While the believer has been delivered out
of his power, the whole world lieth helpless and motionless
still in it, just as it was; including the wise, great, respectable,
and all who are not by vital union in Christ.
20. Summary of our Christian privileges.
is come--is present, having come. "HE IS
HERE--all is full of Him--His incarnation, work, and abiding
presence, is to us a living fact" [ALFORD].
given us an understanding--Christ's, office is to give the inner
spiritual understanding to discern the things of God.
that we may know--Some oldest manuscripts read, "(so) that we
him that is true--God, as opposed to every kind of idol
or false god
Jesus, by virtue of His oneness with God, is also "He that is true"
even--"we are in the true" God, by virtue of being
"in His Son Jesus Christ."
This is the true God--"This Jesus Christ (the last-named
Person) is the true God" (identifying Him thus with the Father in His
attribute, "the only true God,"
primarily attributed to the Father).
and eternal life--predicated of the Son of God;
ALFORD wrongly says, He was the life, but
not eternal life. The Father is indeed eternal life as
its source, but the Son also is that eternal life manifested, as
the very passage
which ALFORD quotes, proves against him. Compare
1Jo 5:11, 13.
Plainly it is as the Mediator of ETERNAL
LIFE to us that Christ is here contemplated. The
Greek is, "The true God and eternal life is this" Jesus Christ,
that is, In believing in Him we believe in the true God, and have
eternal life. The Son is called "He that is TRUE,"
as here. This naturally prepares the way for warning against
Jesus Christ is the only "express image of God's person" which is
sanctioned, the only true visible manifestation of God. All other
representations of God are forbidden as idols. Thus the Epistle
closes as it began
(1Jo 1:1, 2).
21. Affectionate parting caution.
from idols--Christians were then everywhere surrounded by
idolaters, with whom it was impossible to avoid intercourse.
Hence the need of being on their guard against any even indirect
compromise or act of communion with idolatry. Some at Pergamos, in the
region whence John wrote, fell into the snare of eating things
sacrificed to idols. The moment we cease to abide "in Him that is true
(by abiding) in Jesus Christ," we become part of "the world that lieth
in the wicked one," given up to spiritual, if not in all places