Attention!
10 million Ukrainians without power because of Russia. Help us purchase electrical generators for churches.
Consider helping today!

Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

1 John 5

Verse 1

Faith Demands Love

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: John did not divide his letter into chapters and place a division of thought here, but rather men made the divisions many years afterward for the convenience of the readers. Those who performed this important task did not always take great care to break the letter at the end of a thought. Such is the case here. John is still discussing in this first verse the concept he was considering in chapter four, verse 21. In that verse he reminded his readers of the "commandment" that imposed the obligation "That he who loveth God love his brother also." In this first verse, he answers the anticipated question, "Who is this brother that I must love?" The answer is simple: "Whosoever" (or anyone) that "believeth that Jesus is the Christ" is our brother in Christ. "Believeth," pisteuon, is present tense and indicates continuing belief. Vine says that it means "to believe, also to be persuaded of and, hence, to place confidence in, to trust, signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence" (116). John, therefore, says that anyone who continues to believe, trust, and put his confidence in the truth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.

Please remember that he is writing to Christians. He is not telling them how to become Christians but how to tell if one is a Christian. In chapter four, verse 7, John says that "every one that loveth is born of God." There, love is evidence that one is a child of God; here, belief is that evidence. Be it understood, however, that John is not talking about mere assent unto a concept but a confident, trusting, relying faith that proves itself in action. James says that faith without proof is not true saving faith (James 2:18). "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). The continuing faith that John gives as a proof of sonship is a belief that "Jesus is the Christ." John is very deliberate in his use of terms. "Jesus" is the name God told Joseph to give to the child of his virgin wife Mary. This child was begotten by God through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25). John says that this Jesus, who was miraculously conceived in a virgin, "is the Christ." The Gnostics believed that the man Jesus was not the Christ but that the Christ merely adopted the body of Jesus for a time and then deserted it shortly before his death. They proved they were not the children of God by their denial of Jesus. Woods comments:

Some denied that Jesus was Christ, thus repudiating his deity; others, said that Christ was not Jesus, hence, denying his humanity. Still others maintained that his fleshly body was merely an apparition, thus denying his reality. To confess that Jesus is the Christ is to acknowledge his deity, his humanity and his reality (309).

The proposition, "Jesus is the Christ," is an all-encompassing confession. It entails all that Jesus is, all that He did in the flesh, and all that He continues to do now. It means to believe in the deity of Jesus, His incarnation in human flesh, His suffering and sacrifice for sin, the forgiveness of sins through His blood, and any other fact connected with the grand truth that Jesus is the Christ. This is the confession one must make before he becomes a Christian (Acts 8:37; Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9-10); and it is a profession he continues to make and live by the rest of his life. John says such a person is "born of God." "Born of God" is probably better translated "begotten of God." "Begotten" is gegennetai, from gennao, to beget. It is in the perfect tense, signifying that this person has been begotten by God and, as a result, is now a child of God.

and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him: "Him that begat" is God; "him that is begotten of Him" is the child of God. John says that if a Christian loves the Father he will naturally love the Father’s child. The common fatherhood of God in Christian fellowship should engender a common love for one another in the family of God, just as common parenthood produces a natural love between siblings of the same parents. John is illustrating a simple truth. There is a natural affinity that obtains among children of the same parents; therefore, the person who does not love his brethren proves that he is really not the child of his Father. This is a universal, self-evident principle recognized in any family and should be accepted even more in the family of God. In this verse, believing and loving are given as proof of sonship. These two principles go hand in hand in the Christian’s life.

Verse 2

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God: "By this" is en toutoi and literally means "in this." As Vincent says, "Not by this or from this, as an inference, but in the very exercise of the sentiment toward God, we perceive" (363). "We know" speaks of knowledge by experience. The thing we know by experience is that we love God’s children. How do we know? John says, "when we love God." This action seems like a strange proof of love for one another; but when you consider John has said that we prove we love God by our love for one another, would it not also be reasonable to reverse the order and say that our love for God is proof of our love for the brethren? The family relationship continues to be under consideration. The two loves--love for God and love for our brother--are thus united in an unbreakable bond. Vincent comments on "when." He says that it means "more strictly, whenever. Our perception of the existence of love to our brethren is developed on every occasion when we exercise love and obedience toward God" (363).

and keep his commandments: Love is always active, whether toward God or man. John says that the love of our brethren must be "in deed and in truth" (3:17-18); and the love for God must be equally pragmatic, active, and operative in simple obedience to God’s will. "Keep," as used elsewhere in this epistle, speaks of an attentive observance of God’s commandments and a diligent care in obeying them. We attend to them carefully and take care to observe them faithfully. Obedience to God puts one in a right relationship with his brethren and causes him to act in a loving manner toward them. In addition, it should be noted that one of the commandments to keep is the commandment to love the brethren.

Verse 3

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: Barclay remarks, "Once again John reverts to an idea which is never far from the surface of his mind and the centre of his thinking. Obedience is the only proof of love" (122). How true these words! The Greek construction indicates that "the love of God" is the love for God that is being discussed here. John declares we demonstrate our love for God in a careful observance of His commandments. The present tense of "keep" betokens a persistent compliance with the precepts of God. Love is the ever motivating influence that keeps the Christian constantly learning the will of God and tenaciously adhering to His rules for life. Love impels, compels, and propels the child of God in obedience. Love and obedience are two sides of the same coin in our relationship with God; it is never love or obedience but rather obedient love that directs God’s children.

and his commandments are not grievous: "Grievous" is from barus, meaning "heavy, burdensome...causing a burden on him who fulfills them" (Vine 179). The commandments of the Lord, enjoined on his children, are never too heavy to bear, nor are they to be considered as burdensome, irksome, irritating, galling, or otherwise unpleasant. Every commandment of God is given for the good of His people. Anything that is designed for our good should never be considered burdensome, especially if love is the inspiration for our obedience. No service, however difficult, for someone we love, is ever begrudged as too heavy. Wuest observes, "Love for God makes the keeping of His commandments a delight rather than a burden" (173). (Another reason is given in the next verse. Regardless of how heavy the burden, the Christian is promised victory; he always wins in the end.) Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you...for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). Always remember that when you take the yoke of Christ, you are yoked with Him and all His power; there is no way to lose or to be overburdened when Jesus is there. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13).

Verse 4

Victory in Jesus

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: Wuest says, "’Whatsoever’ is neuter in gender, the comprehensive, categorical neuter, expressing the universality of the principle, and refers to persons, those persons born of God" (174). "Born of God" is perfect tense and suggests that this person has been begotten by God and is at the present one of His children. The singular mark of the true child of God is triumph, victory, and mastery over the world. The person who lives for the world is a bond servant of this evil system, but the Christian is God’s free man and comes out a winner over it all.

"Overcometh" is nikao and means "to carry off the victory, come off victorious" (Thayer 426). On whatever front the battle must be fought with the world-system that opposes God and godliness, the Christian emerges victorious. The verb is in the present tense, indicating the fight is an on-going one, and the victory is repeated over and again. Do these affirmations of sure victory over the world and worldly things sound pompous and self-centered? The next phrase concerning our faith in Christ will prove otherwise. (Another explanation offered for "whatsoever is born of God" is an interesting one to consider. Some suggest that since "whatsoever" is used, rather than "whosoever," the apostle is talking about things produced by God, such as faith, love, the church, righteousness, and the word of God. They propose, therefore, that these are the things that overcome the world. Whatever comes from God produces victory. Whether this is the correct interpretation or not, the affirmations are certainly true.)

and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith: The first Greek word for "overcometh" in this passage is present tense and indicates a continuous victory over the evil system. This second "overcometh" is nikesasa, an aorist participle; and it indicates what has happened once and for all. As Brooke says, "It naturally points to a definite act, or fact" (quoted from Stott 174). Vincent says, "The victory over the world was, potentially, won when we believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. We overcame the world by being brought into union with Christ" (363). Our faith in the Christ, which had its definite beginning with a total commitment to all that Christ means, is that which assures a life of victory. What is involved in "the world" that is overcome? In this epistle, the apostle has declared victory over:

1. the evil one (1 John 2:13-14), who is of the world (5:19);

2. the Gnostics (2:26; 4:4), who were of the world (4:5);

3. and the flesh (2:15-17), which is of the world (2:16).

The victory over the world would include a triumph over all of these and a conquest of anything that is opposed to God. Stott quotes Westcott as saying that "the world" is that which "gathers up the sum of all the limited, transitory powers opposed to God which make obedience difficult" (174). "The world" includes the philosophy, morals, and obsessions of a godless, carnal society that thinks, acts, and aspires only in a human way. John promises continuous victory over this evil system now and an ultimate victory at the second coming of Christ (2:28; 4:17-18). Total victory comes through "our faith" in Jesus Christ.

Verse 5

Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

With verse 5, John comes back to his first affirmation in verse one. Everything hinges on faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. He begins with sonship and ends with victory. The word "overcometh" is present tense again, letting us know that the life of the Christian is one of constant and consistent triumph. It is important to reiterate that to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is not a mere lifeless, inactive verbal assent; it is an all-inclusive belief encompassing the sum total of the Christian faith. This statement stands for everything the Christian system is. It is as much a commitment as it is a confession, for this is the confession by which we bow humbly and reverently at the feet of Jesus and pledge our allegiance to Him as our Savior and Lord. The professing and confessing Christian is committed to everything that Jesus is and to everything that Jesus wants.

Verse 6

The Witnesses

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ: John says that when Jesus came into this world, he came "by water and blood." Why does he use such language? It is clear from the study of the epistle that John is dedicated to eradicating the false teaching of the "antichrists," the Cerinthian Gnostics. They tried to disassociate the coming of deity into this earthly realm from anything having to do with a fleshly existence. As we have already noted, they taught that the divine One, "the Christ," only adopted the body of the man, Jesus, at His baptism when the Spirit descended and departed that body before the cross. They denied the virgin birth of Jesus and the death of Christ on Calvary. This statement by John explodes that theory. "Water and blood" are the credentials by which Jesus came into His public life, and they are "witnesses" of His character and work. It is plain that "water" alludes to the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:15) and "blood" refers to His death on the cross (John 19:34). Some have tried to limit "water and blood" to the statement in John 19:34 that speaks of the spear-pierced side of Jesus that produced both "blood and water," but the order of the words is reversed. John says that He came by "water and blood," not by blood and water. Others have tried to make water and blood refer to the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This theory has merit, but Jesus did not come "by" these ordinances. These were established by Him for us. "By" is dia, which Vincent says must mean,

...not merely the sense of accompaniment, but also of instrumentality, i.e., by, through, by means of. Water and blood are thus the media through which Jesus the Mediator wrought, and which especially characterized the coming...Water refers to Christ’s baptism at the beginning of His Messianic work, through which He declared His purpose to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Blood refers to His bloody death upon the cross for the sin of the world (364).

First, we should note that Jesus came "by," or "through," water at His baptism. According to John, He was "Jesus Christ" before He went through the water, and He was Jesus Christ after He went through the water. This fact refutes the doctrine that Christ came to Jesus’ body after His baptism; Jesus was the Christ even before that event. Secondly, "Jesus Christ" came through "blood" when He died on Calvary. He was "Jesus Christ" before and after He went through the blood. Thus, the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ is affirmed and re-affirmed. It is significant that these two words direct our minds to two important points in Jesus’ earthly ministry: first, to the beginning of the ministry when He was baptized and the Spirit descended, and, second, to the close of His ministry when He fulfilled the purpose of His coming in shedding His blood for the sins of the whole world. All things culminated there as He shouted from the cross, "It is finished."

not by water only, but by water and blood: John changes the preposition here from dia to en, from "by" to "in." What is the import of this change? John seems to be covering all the bases with the Cerinthian doctrine. The Gnostics said that the Christ came to the body of Jesus at "the water" of baptism but left before His suffering. John says, Christ did not come only "in," or in the sphere of, water; but He also came in the sphere of a bloody death. Christ was there in the midst of the experience of baptism, and He was there in the midst of the experience of shedding His blood.

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth: "The Spirit" is the Holy Spirit. He is called by this title as well as many other designations. "Beareth witness" is from the verb, marturoun. Vine says that it denotes "to be a martus" (226) He defines martus as "one who can or does aver what he has seen or heard or knows" (225). The Holy Spirit is an eyewitness to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and he continues to bear witness or testify to that truth. The verb is in the present tense, indicating that He is constantly testifying and giving evidence that Jesus is divine. Jesus tells His apostles that the Holy Spirit "shall testify of me" (John 15:26). And though He may not audibly speak to us today or give miraculous evidence, He continues to testify through the inspired word of God. It is noteworthy that the apostle calls his readers’ attention to the testimony of the Spirit. He has presented himself and other apostles as witnesses to the truth of Jesus (1:2; 4:14); now he appeals to the ultimate source of testimony, the Spirit Himself. He goes on to give credence to the Spirit’s testimony by saying, "because the Spirit is truth." Just as God is "light" and "love," the Holy Spirit is "truth" or the very epitome of truth. As to His nature, the Spirit is "truth," or as it is in the original, "the truth." This teaching does not equate the Spirit with the word, as some say. (One old preacher, many years ago, held up the New Testament and said, "You can buy all there is to the Holy Spirit for a dime.") The Holy Spirit is not the living Word (Jesus), the spoken word (1 Corinthians 2:13), or the written word (Ephesians 6:17). The word of God is an instrument of the Spirit in accomplishing His work. Just as an individual uses words to convey his thoughts, ideas, and testimony, the Holy Spirit uses the written word of God to convey His thoughts, ideas, and testimony. Please note that this context shows that testimony can be given without words, such as the testimony of the water and the blood. If this be true of water and blood, it can also be true of the Holy Spirit. He gives testimony to His presence in the Christian’s heart through strengthening the inner man with power of action (Ephesians 3:16; Romans 8:16). Jesus says that His works bore "witness" of Him (John 5:36; John 10:25).

Verse 7

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

I have always been reluctant to accept the claims of the critics when they deny that portions of the Bible are genuine; however, in this case, the evidence seems to be overwhelming that this verse was added by an overly ambitious scribe in copying the New Testament. It was added hundreds of years after the original was written. Jim Crouch makes a very scholarly presentation of reasons for disallowing most of verse 7 and a portion of verse 8. Crouch writes:

The Textus Receptus, upon which the King James Version (A.D. 1611) is based, contains a passage that has received much attention by textual critics. It appears that part of the passage has been interpolated, there being no rational, textual basis for its inclusion in the letter. The passage reads as follows, with the interpolated portion in italics: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one" (5:7-8).

The external textual evidence against the authenticity of this passage is overwhelming. These words do not appear in any Greek uncial manuscripts (considered the most valuable and reliable text sources), nor do they appear in any Greek cursive manuscripts prior to the fourteenth century. In all, only two Greek cursive manuscripts contain the words at all: Cursive 629 of the fourteenth century, and Cursive 61 of the sixteenth century. Cursive 635 of the eleventh century contains the wording in the margin, though it was placed there by a seventeenth century hand; and Cursive 88 also has it in the margin, but by a modern hand. No ancient version of any language prior to the fifth century contains the words, and none of the early writers ever quoted from this passage.

Evidence shows that the words began as a gloss on the text of First John, and later, mistakenly found their way into some later century Latin texts. In Greek texts, the words were first printed in the Complutensian Polygot of 1514. Erasmus did not find them in any previous Greek manuscripts, and therefore refused to print them in his first two copies of the Greek New Testament. However, when questioned regarding this decision, he rashly promised that he would include them if they could be found in any Greek manuscript (not believing that any such manuscript could be found). He was soon after confronted with Codex Montfort (Cursive 61 of the sixteenth century) that did contain the wording (one of only two extant). He suspected that these words had been added to the manuscript to comply with a Latin text, yet he inserted the words in order to avoid being accused of being a liar. From here, it made its way into the King James Version.

We conclude therefore that this portion of 1 John 5:7-8 was not a portion of John’s original writing. This is borne out by the tremendous amount of external evidence that is now extant. Accordingly, modern translations of the New Testament have deleted this phrase, or set it apart from the text to show the lack of authenticity for its inclusion in the text. The context even suggests that the words do not belong. A much better flow of thought occurs without these words: "This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (5:6-8)" (Crouch - Notes).

Verse 8

And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

"In earth" is part of the interpolation added by a scribe. John affirms three witnesses. In verse 6, he made the Holy Spirit the third witness in addition to water and blood. Here he puts Him in first place as the chief witness to the incarnation of our Lord. For some very good reasons, two or three witnesses have always been required to authenticate testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). In this case, we have three witnesses, one divine person and two impersonal witnesses. We have the supreme Witness and two supporters. The Holy Spirit, both in word and deed, has declared the deity of Jesus and the divineness of his purposes. The baptism of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 3:13-17, attests to His divine-human mission. On that occasion, God thundered His voice from the heavens above in attestation to the divinity of the human Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, says, "And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:29-34). Like the blood of Abel that "crieth from the ground" (Genesis 4:10), the blood of Jesus, which was shed on Calvary, "speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). It testifies to the matchless sacrifice of the Messiah, the Christ, who was both the Son of God and the Son of man, the One who "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of cross" (Philippians 2:8).

and these three agree in one: Wuest says that the expression, "these three agree in one" literally means "are to the one thing" (176). In other words, there is one truth upon which the three witnesses concur. Vincent says, "They converge upon the one truth, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh" (367). (Some commentators try to make "the water and the blood" in this verse refer to Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While it is true that baptism testifies to the death of Christ (Romans 6:1-4) and while the Lord’s Supper speaks in words of eloquence concerning our Lord’s death when we gather about the table each Lord’s Day, this theory does not fit the context of 1 John. It was in His baptism that Christ went "through" the water, and it was in His death on the cross that Christ went "through" the blood. These are the witnesses that answer the false claims of the Gnostics.)

Verse 9

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: "If" does not mean that there is any doubt about receiving the witness or testimony of men; it could be translated, "Since we receive...." The apostle is reasoning from the lesser to the greater witness. It is a fact that we do accept the testimony of men; therefore, we should be even more willing to accept the testimony of God, which is greater. Vincent says that since the witness of God is greater, we should "supply mentally, and therefore we should receive that" (367), that is, the witness of God. "Receive" is lambano, "to take, appropriate, receive" (Wuest, I John 176). When we accept the testimony of men, we appropriate it to ourselves as truth. The same attitude should be exhibited even more toward the testimony of God. Wuest suggests this translation, "Since we are in the habit of receiving the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, and therefore should be received" (176).

for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son: John now ascends to the highest Witness, the Sovereign of the universe, God Himself. Behind the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood is the witness of God, who testifies to the truth of His Son. What all is meant by "he hath testified of his Son" we may never fully understand. Many commentators ignore this statement. God testified of His Son when Jesus was baptized in Jordan (Matthew 3:17). He further testified of his Son on the mount of transfiguration, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5). The "gospel of God" testifies "concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:1-4). The witness of the Spirit, water, and blood is the witness of God; He is in back of it all.

Verse 10

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: "Believeth" is present tense in the Greek, reflecting continuous action. It is accurately rendered, "he that keeps on believing in the Son." "Hath" is also present tense; hence, the believer "continues to have the witness in himself." "Witness" is marturian and means "evidence, testimony" (Moulton 258). Some commentators try to make the Holy Spirit the witness who is in the Christian. While I believe sincerely that the Holy Spirit does dwell in the heart of the Christian and that He does bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16), the word should be translated "testimony." It is translated from the same word that speaks of man’s testimony and God’s testimony in verse 9. John is saying that the person who continues to believe in the Son of God has the testimony in his heart. How does he get it into his heart? He believes it.

he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son: The first "believeth not" is present tense, indicating a continuous habit of unbelief. "Hath made" and the second "believeth not" are perfect tense and speak of completed acts with continued results. The person who disbelieves God has made and continues to make God a liar. He is saying that all of God’s testimony about Jesus is false. Further, there was a time when the unbeliever had a choice to make, a very critical choice. He chose to believe not the "record" (marturian, testimony) of God concerning Jesus, and he continues in that disbelief. This passage shows the appalling position of one who denies the Sonship of Jesus. He casts aspersions on the honesty of the One behind the testimony, God Himself. He makes God a liar.

Verse 11

Assurance of Salvation

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

And this is the record: "Record" is the same word that has been translated "witness" or testimony throughout this context. This is the testimony that God has given concerning His Son, and the testimony the Christian holds in his heart.

that God hath given to us eternal life: "Hath given" is aorist tense and should be "gave." At some point God "gave" unto us eternal life. Was this when Jesus came in the flesh and made eternal life possible through His life and death, or was it when the Christian complied with God’s conditions of salvation? Both events could certainly be in view. There is some discussion about present or prospective possession of eternal life. We know that eternal life is a promise (1 John 2:25; Mark 10:30). Paul says that the Christian lives "in hope of eternal life" (Titus 1:2), and he also says that we hope not for that we have (Romans 8:24-25). Yet, there is a sense in which we can say that we have eternal life. It is the same as saying that we are saved or that we have salvation as a present possession, even though the full realization of that salvation is yet to come (1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 1:9). Another sense in which we might say we have eternal life is in the quality of the Christian’s life. Gerald Paden affirms that this is the meaning of John’s words: he is talking quality of life rather than duration of life. He says, "The word eternal in verse 11 is an adjective modifying life and speaks of a quality of life rather than duration" (25).

and this life is in his Son: We have abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). John says, "this life is in his Son." Paul says, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3-4). It is "in Christ" and through Christ that we really live. Notice that John uses "eternal life" and "life" interchangeably. "The testimony" is about life, real life, that we have "in Christ."

Verse 12

He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

The alternatives are clear. God has always given man a choice. God told Israel, "I have set before you life and death...therefore choose life...for He (the Lord) is thy life" (Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

In the Christian age, we have the same choice, life or death. The wise counsel of John is, "choose the Son and choose life." "Hath" is present tense and indicates the continuous possession of the Son and the life that He gives. What does it mean to "have" Jesus? It is to have Him as our Savior, Lord, Redeemer, Friend, and Counselor and to live in a blessed fellowship with Him. One enters "into Christ" through obedience to the gospel (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27) and gives evidence of his fellowship with the Lord through continued faith, love, and obedience. Paul declares that the source of his life and success is not in himself but because "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). To have Jesus in a continuing relationship is to have "the life" (There is the article in the Greek). This is the abundant life with all the qualities of eternal life. How long does one have life? As long as he has the Son. The duration of that life depends on having the Son. The possession of eternal life is always contingent on faithfulness to Christ. The Hebrew writer says, "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Hebrews 3:14). To be a "partaker of Christ" is to have Him, but that possession depends on steadfastness. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Woods makes a searching statement about this phrase: "He may have money, fame and fortune; intelligence, education and talent; influence, reputation and honor; but, if he has not the Son, he has not the life!" (317)

Verse 13

You Can Know You Are Saved

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God: Once again the apostle uses the epistolary aorist in which he puts himself in the place of his readers as they receive the letter, saying, "I have written," or "I wrote." John identifies his readers as those who continue to believe on the name of Jesus. These are the true believers who are faithful to the One in Whom they believe. "Name" stands for everything Jesus is and everything He means.

that ye may know that ye have eternal life: John once again tells these Christians why he is writing: he is writing to give them assurance of eternal life. "Know" is not to know by experience in this passage; it is eidete, from oida, to know absolutely. John is writing that they might know positively, and without any possibility of doubt, that they have eternal life. Vincent says, "The Greek order is peculiar, ’ye may know that life ye have eternal.’ The adjective eternal is added as an after-thought. So Westcott says: ’that ye have life - yes, eternal life’" (369). Stott says, "That ye may know (eidete) means, both in word and tense, not that they may gradually grow in assurance, but they may possess here and now a present certainty of the life they have received in Christ" (184).

When one really believes in Jesus Christ, it is not presumptuous for him to say, "I know that I am saved." He is not putting his trust in himself; he is trusting in the Christ for his salvation. There is a threefold basis for the assurance of salvation in the epistle of John: (1) Our break with sin and obedience to the commandments (1:8-2:3); (2) Our maturity in agape love (2:5-10); (3) Our faith in Christ. The entire epistle of 1 John assures the Christian that he can "know that he knows" the Lord in a saving relationship.

and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God: This phrase is not found in the best texts; however, it does no damage to the text but merely suggests continued faith in Christ. One rendered it, "that ye may continue to believe on the name...." The "name" of Jesus stands for His person, and, therefore, all that He is as a person. This is the continuing effect of John’s writings on all those who in any age read his words.

Verse 14

Confidence in Prayer

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

And this is the confidence that we have in him: John now begins a discussion of prayer. What he says is connected with verse 13, for he begins with "and this is the confidence...." Our confidence comes from the assurance we have of eternal life through Christ. "Confidence" is the word discussed in 2:28 and 3:21 and 4:17. It is parresia and refers to the boldness and freedom with which one speaks. In chapter three, verse 21, he speaks of boldness in our prayer life. In this verse he reaffirms the confidence of the Christian as he speaks to God in prayer. He returns to this all-important subject again. "In him" is pros auton and means "toward Him." This expression indicates the boldness and freedom of speech with which the Christian approaches the God who hears and answers prayer.

that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: " ’Ask’ is aiteo, ’to ask for something to be given.’ It is in the middle voice in which the person acting in the verb does so in his own interest. It is in the present subjunctive, which speaks of continuous action. Thus, the total idea is ’if we keep on asking for something for ourselves’ " (Wuest, I John 179). "Will" is thelema, "a desire which springs from the emotions" (Wuest, I John 179). God’s will is merely what God wills, desires, or wants. To pray "according to His will" is to pray with the provision, "nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is the perfect example of acceptable prayer. It was the desire of Jesus that He be released from the death of the cross because it would necessitate His becoming sin, separating from God and in a sense suffering hell. In spite of His extreme emotional depression in anticipating this traumatic experience, He still acceded to the "will" and wishes of His heavenly Father. His expression of submission should ever be on our lips, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). Stott very appropriately says, "Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God or bending His will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to His" (185). Concerning "He heareth us," Vine says, "That God hears prayer signifies that he answers prayer" (205). God does not just listen to our prayers like a spectator; He listens and answers. The word "hear" presupposes a response. It should be noted that God answers every prayer of the Christian. It might not be in the way the petitioner wants, but it will always be in accordance with God’s will. SOMETIMES GOD ANSWERS IN OUR OWN BEST INTEREST BY SAYING, "NO!"

Verse 15

And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

And if we know that he hear us: "If" does not suggest any doubt about answered prayer but rather suggests the fact of answered prayer. "If" could be translated "since." "Know" indicates absolute knowledge that is based on definite assurances from God. John is affirming the positive, definite, and indisputable knowledge that God answers prayer. God listens and responds to our prayers.

whatsoever we ask: "Whatsoever" is a broad term. Some Christians are reluctant to pray about some things. Paul exhorts the Philippians concerning worry, "in everything with prayer and supplication make your requests known unto God" (Philippians 4:6). His advice is, "Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything." We are assured of God that we can pray about "whatsoever." Pray about your sins, your weaknesses, your home and family, your occupation or profession, your relationships with others, your finances, your secret sins, and any other need you may have. Jesus promises, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7).

we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him: "We know" suggests that we know absolutely that we have in the present time our petitions or what we ask for. This is the certainty with which the Christian approaches the throne of God in prayer. He knows even as he prays that God is answering his prayer. Jesus urges, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). The Christian asks with such total confidence in answered prayer that he considers the prayer already answered while he makes the petition.

Verse 16

The Sin Unto Death

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

It must be kept in mind that the subject of this context is prayer. John has just assured his readers that Christians should come in boldness before the throne of God in prayer. In this passage, he gives an example of asking God on the behalf of another brother in Christ. He assures his readers that God will answer if it is according to His will but will refuse to do so if it is not according to His will.

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death: "Man" is not in the Greek text; it is correctly rendered, "anyone." If anyone "see his brother sin." This is a seen sin, one that is easily discernible. "Brother" must inevitably refer to a brother in Christ as in other instances in John’s epistle. "Sin a sin" is better translated "sinning a sin" (ASV). Vincent recommends the latter and observes, "There is no exact parallel to the phrase in the New Testament" (370). At first glance, one would conclude that this is a sin that is in the process of being actually committed. Woods answers this unreasonable assumption:

Why then, the present active participle hamartanonta (sinning) here? The participle agrees grammatically with adelphon (brother), and with the cognate accusative hamartian (sin); it is a sinning brother who stands, as it were, before our very eyes. This is, therefore, not to be construed to mean that the brother is engaged in sin at the moment prayer is made in his behalf (321).

"Not unto death" is me pros thanaton and "signifies tendency toward, not necessarily involving death" (Vincent 370). The sin under consideration here is one that does not tend to end in death. The word "death" must be defined according to its use in this context in order for us to understand the sin, or sins, under consideration here. Some want to make this a capital sin that is punishable by physical death, such as certain sins under the law of Moses. In the context of 1 John, death is the opposite of life. Christians are said to have passed from "death unto life" (3:14), that is, from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life. In this chapter, verse 12, John says, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." He that "hath not life" is spiritually dead. The "sin which is not unto death" is a sin that does not result in spiritual death; or, to put it another way, it does not end in separation from the fellowship of God. "He shall ask" refers to the Christian who is praying for his brother. John advises him to pray for him. What will be the results of such a prayer? "And he shall give him life for them." The pronouns in this phrase must be understood to make sense in understanding the passage. The first pronoun "he" must refer to God, for He is the only One capable of giving life. Who is the "him?" Is it the person prayed for or the person praying? The "him" refers to the one praying, for he is one who should get an answer to his prayer. He receives life on the behalf of those for whom he is praying. The literal translation bears this out: "he shall ask, and he shall give him life for those that sin..." (Berry 616-617). This passage is made clear when we understand that the context is talking about God’s answering prayer, and this verse is dealing with an example of that fact. The pronoun "them" refers to the brother, and others like him, who sin such a sin. God will give continuing life in answer to the Christian’s prayer, which naturally accords to his sinning brother’s benefit. His brother’s sin, therefore, does not deprive him of fellowship with the Father because God gives him continued spiritual life.

There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it: John continues his example of proper prayer by turning his attention to another brother in Christ who may commit "a sin unto death." Barclay comments,

That does not mean the deadly sin; it means the sin which is going towards death, the sin whose goal and end is death, the sin, which, if continued in, must finish in death. The terrible thing about the sin which is pros thanaton is not so much what it is in itself, as where it will end, if a man persists in it (142).

The sin unto death is the opposite of the sin not unto death. John does not advise the Christian to pray for "it," that is, the sin unto death. It will do no good. You might pray for the brother, but you need not pray for God to forgive the sin.

What is the sin unto death? This is a difficult question, and we have leaned heavily on others for an answer. There are many speculations given by commentators, but space would not be justly used to mention all of them. The sin unto death has been equated with the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32), the willful sin (Hebrews 10:26-27), and apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-6). Each of the above sins can be understood in its own context as can the sin unto death.

To answer the question "What is the sin unto death?" we must first ask another pertinent question: When is the Christian supposed to pray for a brother who sins? Are we to pray for him while he is sinning, without his knowledge or request, and expect God to answer by giving life? If this be so, we should appoint a committee of prayerful Christians to keep watch on our actions and be constantly praying on our behalf. The only scriptural answer is that we should pray for those who ask for our prayers. Their asking shows their repentance and their willingness to acknowledge their sins. James says, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). The faults must be confessed before one can effectually pray for his sinning brother in Christ. If you "see" a brother engaging in sin that you know will result in his spiritual demise, if you warn him of its consequences, and if he still refuses to repent and confess his sin, you may conclude that this is a sin unto death. There is no purpose in your praying, for his impenitence prevents any forgiveness on God’s part.

In the context of 1 John, we have learned that "if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). God has promised that our Advocate, Jesus, will plead our case before the bar of justice when we confess our sins (1 John 2:1-2). We are also assured that the blood of Christ is constantly cleansing us of "all sin" as we walk in the light, in penitence and prayer (1 John 1:7). But will God forgive the stubborn, rebellious, and persistent sinner? God will not forgive his sins nor reward him with life but will accord him death. God breaks His fellowship with that person, and the sinning brother dies spiritually. If that person stubbornly persists in his sinful practice, God will ultimately confer upon him eternal death, or eternal punishment in hell (Romans 6:23).

The sin unto death is not any specific sin. Depending upon the attitude of the sinner, any sin may end in death. If the sinner is obstinate and unyielding, the sin leads to death. If the sinner is obedient and yielding, the sin is "not unto death" and can be forgiven. Highhandedness in sinning is dangerous. "Unto" is pros and literally means, "face to face." The person who goes on in his sinful activity, without repentance, confession, and prayer, stands face to face with death, spiritual suicide. It does no good to pray that he be forgiven, for his impenitence precludes forgiveness. Can such a person ever be saved? Certainly, if he will repent and confess his sin, God will answer prayer on his behalf.

Verse 17

All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

Why does the apostle say, "All unrighteousness is sin"? He wants us to understand that any sin persisted in will lead to death. He does not want us to conclude that there is any specific sin under consideration in the verse above. "Unrighteousness" is the opposite of righteousness. David says that God’s commandments are righteousness (Psalms 119:172). The person who refuses to obey God’s word is guilty of unrighteousness and, therefore, of sin. Righteousness is doing right: unrighteousness is doing wrong. Any wrong-doing is sin and will eventually lead to spiritual death if no repentance is shown. John repeats, "and there is a sin not unto death." Those who believe that "a sin unto death" means that there is a specific sin that merits death should ponder the statement, "and there is a sin not unto death." Is there one specific sin that is "not unto death?" If it is true of one, it is true of the other. If you consult the Greek text, you will find the article "a" missing; hence, "there is sin unto death" and "there is sin not unto death." This makes our task easier in understanding that any sin can be the sin unto death. It all depends on the disposition of the one who sins. If he is impenitent, his sin leads to separation from God. If he is penitent, God will not withdraw his fellowship from him but will give him continued life. Lenski says, "What God does when he gives life for these sinners is to strengthen their damaged, declining spiritual life, which they have not as yet lost" (535).

John is not making a distinction between so-called venial sins and mortal sins. Some translations give credence to this idea by rendering the "sin unto death" as "mortal" or "deadly." Venial sins are viewed by some religionists as sins that will not cause one to be eternally lost while mortal sins carry the penalty of eternal punishment. No such distinction is made in the word of God. "All sin" is wrong and punishable by spiritual death here and eternal death in hell (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).

Verse 18

Summing It Up

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: We should not forget verses 16 and 17 as we begin the thoughts of this verse. John says that the child of God does not habitually practice sin. It is the habitual practice of any sin, without the willingness to repent, that constitutes the sin unto death. The true child of God will not find himself in that unhappy circumstance. John here begins a series of three certainties with the words "we know." This passage speaks of absolute, certain knowledge. John continually comes back to words that speak of knowledge, whether absolute or experiential, to give one blow after another to the doctrines of the Gnostics who laid claim to superior knowledge. John says that every Christian has such knowledge.

The first thing we know with certainty is "that whosoever is born of God sinneth not." "Born of God" is better rendered "begotten of God." It is in the perfect tense and speaks of completed action with present results. The meaning is that this person stands begotten of God; this is his state: he is a child of God. "Sinneth not" is in the present tense and indicates continuous action. The child of God does not keep on habitually sinning. This practice is contrary to his nature, as God’s child. The passage does not mean that the Christian never sins, for this would contradict other clear passages in John’s epistle (1:8-10; 2:1-2). He says that the child of God does not practice sin as a habit.

but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself: Who is the "he" that is begotten. "Begotten" is in the aorist tense, which is rendered in the literal translation, "was begotten" (Berry 617). Some authorities believe that "himself" is not in the original text but should be simply "him." If so, the One who "was begotten" is Jesus, who is said to keep the Christian. Vincent agrees with this rendition (373).

"Keepeth" is tereo, to take care of, to guard" (Wuest, I John 182). Jesus takes watchful care of the Christian, guards him, and helps him to overcome the temptations of sin. We can accomplish anything "through Christ who strengthens us" (Philippians 4:13). The Christian has Someone on his side, a divine One. There is great comfort in knowing that our security in spirituality does not depend entirely on ourselves; we have the assistance of a divine helper. Westcott says, "The Christian has an active enemy, but he has also a watchful guardian" (quoted by Barclay 144-145).

and that wicked one toucheth him not: This phrase lends credence to the interpretation suggested in the previous phrase. It is Jesus who protects the Christian against the onslaughts of the devil. "Wicked one" is the title John continues to give to the devil. He is that pernicious one who is bent upon the destruction of anyone and everyone. Satan is the "active enemy" mentioned by Westcott, but he is powerless to control us if we put our trust in Jesus. "Toucheth" is hapto and means "to grasp, to lay hold of" (Wuest, I John 183). The Christian who sets his mind to refrain from sin and puts his trust totally in the keeping power of Christ is free from the grasp of the devil. Satan has no power over us that we do not give him.

Verse 19

And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

And we know that we are of God: This is the second of John’s certainties that he applies to all Christians. "We know" absolutely "that we are of God." "Of" is ek, meaning "out of" or "from." John says that Christians are certain their spiritual origin is God. We have been begotten by Him and are His offspring. How does this language sound in comparison to our ambivalent, uncertain, and doubtful expressions today about our relationship to God? Because of our affiliation with Christ, we should declare with conviction and assurance that we are in a right relationship with God. Our faith in Christ makes this confidence possible.

and the whole world lieth in wickedness: This is the sad part of the verse. "The world" speaks of all those who adhere to the practices of this evil system that is opposed to God. Whereas the Christian knows with certainty that he is "of God," he knows with equal certainty that the majority of mankind is "of the world" and "lieth in wickedness." "Lieth," Vincent says, indicates "the passive, unprogressive state in the sphere of Satan’s influence" (373). The passivity of the majority of earth’s inhabitants in yielding to Satan is frightening. Most of humanity is lying passively in the grasp of Satan. Either knowingly or unknowingly, they have given themselves over to his control. "Wickedness" should be translated the same as in verse 18, "wicked one." The one who is actively, viciously, and perniciously wicked is the devil. It is he who has control of the masses on this planet. Most of them are just lying there without any resistance or any inclination to escape. Vincent quotes Sophocles, "Wretched we lie in you as in a god" (374). What a sad state!

Verse 20

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

And we know that the Son of God is come: The third certainty is one that John has tried to demonstrate over and over, the incarnation of Christ. "Know" again speaks of absolute knowledge. John and his readers know with certainty that the only begotten Son of God "is come." Wuest says,

"Is come" is heko, "to have come, have arrived, be present." John does not use erchomai here, a verb which speaks only of the act of coming, but heko, which includes in the idea of coming, the fact of arrival and personal presence. It is, "the Son of God has come (in incarnation), has arrived and is here" (183-184).

Jesus came, and we are still enjoying the benefits of His presence.

and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true: "Understanding" has to do with "the faculty of understanding" (Vincent 374), "the faculty of knowing, understanding, or moral reflection" (Vine 69), or "insight, comprehension" (Moulton 94). Jesus "is come" and has given us an insight the world does not possess, an understanding that makes it possible for us to know God in an intimate relationship. (Compare 1 Corinthians 2:14.) "Know" here is ginosko, knowledge by experience. It is present tense and thus speaks of a growing knowledge of God. "True" is alethinos and speaks of that which is genuine. "Him that is true" is God. The God Who is real, true, and genuine is a far cry from the false and counterfeit gods of the false teachers. What a gracious gift our Lord has bestowed on us that we might get to know the real and genuine God in a very intimate relationship! (Read John 17:3.) Before Jesus came, the mind of man was ever turned upward in search of his Creator; but of himself and by himself, man could not know God in the fullest sense. Jesus came that we might really know God.

and we are in him that is true: Jesus made it possible for us to both know God in intimate fellowship and dwell in Him in constant communion. There is a constant refrain that runs throughout this epistle, pointing us to the fact that we are in God or that we dwell in Him (2:5; 3:24). This terminology repeatedly tells us of the great fellowship we enjoy with Him as we "walk in the light" or as we dwell in God. Jesus has given us understanding by which we can know by experience this tremendous communion with God.

even in his Son Jesus Christ: "Even" is supplied by the translators. Lenski suggests that it should be translated "And we are in the real One (God) in his Son Jesus Christ" (541). Berry agrees with this rendition in his literal translation. This translation also agrees with other passages. In order for us to be in God we must be in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The only way to God is through Christ (John 14:6). When one is baptized "into Christ" (Galatians 3:27), he enters into fellowship with the Father.

This is the true God, and eternal life: This declaration clearly refers to Jesus as the "true God, and eternal life." It is Jesus who is called "eternal life" in chapter one, verse 2, " (For the life was manifested, and we have see it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)." Once again, John validates the deity of Jesus by calling Him "the true God." (Jesus is called "God" in John 1:1.) He also certifies that He is the source of life, eternal life. It is fitting that John begin his epistle affirming that life comes through Jesus and then close his epistle with the same grand truth.

Verse 21

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

John closes with his affectionate name for his dear readers, "little children." He now offers his final warning, which should be taken in light of all he has said in this letter. It is true that Ephesus, where John lived many years, was a city of rank idolatry. The Temple of Diana, which exhibited idolatry and wickedness in its worst form, was the central attraction in Ephesus. In spite of this fact, the exhortation to refrain from idols should be kept in the context of John’s warnings to avoid the false concepts of the antichrists. Lenski says,

These "idols" are the fictional conceptions of God that were held by Cerinthus and by his devotees. By calling these conceptions ’the idols’ John places them in the same class with all the pagan images and the imagined gods (545-546).

Vincent says, "The command, however, has apparently the wider Pauline sense, to guard against everything which occupies the place due to God" (375). John is warning his readers against the false concepts of God being promoted by the Gnostics. A false concept of God produces a counterfeit God in the mind and, thus, fosters the worship of a false god. We might add that anything that is put before God is an idol. Paul says that "covetousness is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). "Keep" simply means to guard. The Christian must always be on guard lest he find himself worshiping the gods of money, pleasure, education, family, false doctrine, or anything given precedence over God.

Copyright Statement
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-john-5.html. 1993-2022.