1 John 1:5- 2:6 Antique Commentary Quotes

Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:5


5–7. Fellowship with God and with the Brethren

5. This then is the message which we have heard of Him] Better, And the message which we have heard from Him is this. ‘This’ is the predicate, as so often in S. John: ‘But the judgment is this’ (Joh_3:19); ‘The commandment is this’ (Joh_15:12); ‘The eternal life is this’ (Joh_17:3): comp. 1Jn_3:11; 1Jn_3:23; 1Jn_5:3; 1Jn_5:11; 1Jn_5:14; 2Jn_1:6. In all these cases ‘is this’ means ‘This is what it consists in, This is the sum and substance of it’. The conjunction does not introduce an inference: here, as in the Gospel, the main portion of the writing is joined on to the Introduction by a simple ‘and’. Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish all have ‘and’: ‘then’ comes from Geneva, apparently under the influence of Beza’s igitur. The connexion of thought seems to be this. S. John is writing that we may have fellowship with God (1Jn_1:3): and in order to have this we must know 1. what God is (1Jn_1:5), and 2. what we consequently are bound to be (6–10). The word for ‘message’ (ἀγγελία) occurs only in this Epistle (1Jn_3:11) in N.T., but is more frequent in LXX.

Once more we have a striking parallel between Gospel and Epistle: the Gospel opens with a sentence very similar in form; ‘And the witness of John is this’ (Joh_1:19). All these similarities strengthen the belief that the two were written about the same time, and were intended to accompany one another.

from Him] From Christ. The pronoun used (αὐτός) is not the one (ἐκεῖνος) commonly used for Christ in this Epistle. But here the context decides: ‘Him’ refers back to ‘His Son Jesus Christ’ (1Jn_1:3), the subject of the opening verses (1–3). Moreover, it was from Christ, and not immediately from the Father, that the Apostles received their message.

and declare unto you] Better, and announce unto you: not precisely the same verb as was rendered ‘declare’ in 1Jn_1:2-3. Both are compounds of the same verb; but while the former has merely the notion of proclaiming and making known, this has the notion of proclaiming again what has been received elsewhere. The one is annuntiare, the other renuntiare. S. John hands on the message received from Christ: it is no invention of his own. It is a message, and not a discovery. So also the Spirit makes known or reveals to us truths which proceed from the Father (Joh_16:13-15): comp. Joh_4:25; 2Co_7:7; 1Pe_1:12, where the same verb is used in all cases.

God is light] This is the theme of the first main division of the Epistle, as ‘God is Love’ of the second: so that this verse stands in the same relation to the first great division as 1Jn_1:1-4 to the whole Epistle. No one tells us so much about the Nature of God as S. John: other writers tell us what God does, and what attributes He possesses; S. John tells us what He is. There are three statements in the Bible which stand alone as revelations of the Nature of God, and they are all in the writings of S. John: ‘God is spirit’ (Joh_4:24); ‘God is light’, and ‘God is love’ (1Jn_4:8). In all these momentous statements the predicate has no article, either definite or indefinite. We are not told that God is the Spirit, or the Light, or the Love: nor (in all probability) that He is a Spirit, or a light. But ‘God is spirit, is light, is love’: spirit, light, love are His very Nature. They are not mere attributes, like mercy and justice: they are Himself. They are probably the nearest approach to a definition of God that the human mind could frame or comprehend: and in the history of thought and religion they are unique. The more we consider them, the more they satisfy us. The simplest intellect can understand their meaning; the subtlest cannot exhaust it. No philosophy, no religion, not even the Jewish, had risen to the truth that God is light. ‘The Lord shall be to thee an everlasting light’ (Isa_60:19-20) is far short of it. But S. John knows it: and lest the great message which he conveys to us in his Gospel, ‘God is spirit’, should seem somewhat bare and empty in its indefiniteness, he adds this other message in his Epistle, ‘God is light, God is love’. No figure borrowed from the material world could give the idea of perfection so clearly and fully as light. It suggests ubiquity, brightness, happiness, intelligence, truth, purity, holiness. It suggests excellence without limit and without taint; an excellence whose nature it is to communicate itself and to pervade everything from which it is not of set purpose shut out. ‘Let there be light’ was the first fiat of the Creator; and on it all the rest depends. Light is the condition of beauty, and life, and growth, and activity: and this is as true in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres as in the material universe.

Of the many beautiful and true ideas which the utterance ‘God is light’ suggests to us, two are specially prominent in this Epistle; intelligence and holiness. The Christian, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and in communion with God in Christ, possesses (1) knowledge, (2) righteousness. (1) ‘Ye know Him which is from the beginning’ (1Jn_2:13-14); ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it’ (1Jn_2:21); ‘Ye need not that anyone teach you’ (1Jn_2:27); &c. &c. (2) ‘Every one that hath this hope on him purifieth himself, even as He is pure’ (1Jn_3:3); ‘Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God’; &c. &c.

and in Him is no darkness at all] Or, retaining the telling order of the Greek, and darkness in Him there is none at all. This antithetic parallelism is characteristic of S. John’s style. He frequently emphasizes a statement by following it up with a denial of its opposite. Thus, in the next verse, ‘We lie, and do not the truth’. Comp. ‘We lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us’ (1Jn_1:8); Abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him’ (1Jn_2:10); ‘Is true, and is no lie’ (1Jn_2:27): comp. 1Jn_2:4. So also in the Gospel: see on Joh_1:3. The denial here is very strong, the negative being doubled in the Greek; ‘none whatever, none at all’.

Another parallel between the Gospel and the Epistle must here be pointed out. In the Prologue to the former we have these ideas in succession; the Word, life, light, darkness. The same four follow in the same order here; ‘the Word of life’, ‘the life was manifested’, ‘God is light, and darkness in Him there is none’. Must we not suppose that the sequence of thought here has been influenced by the sequence in the corresponding portion of the Gospel?

The figurative use of ‘darkness’ for moral darkness, i.e. error and sin, is very frequent in S. John (1Jn_2:8-9; 1Jn_2:11; see on Joh_1:5; Joh_8:12). These passages shew that the meaning of this verse cannot be, ‘God has now been revealed, and no part of His Nature remains unknown’; which, moreover, could never be stated of Him who is incomprehensible. S. John is laying the foundation of Christian Ethics, of which the very first principle is that there is a God who intellectually, morally, and spiritually is light.

“In speaking of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ it is probable that S. John had before him the Zoroastrian speculations on the two opposing spiritual powers which influenced Christian thought at a very early date” (Westcott).

Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:6

An inference from the first principle just laid down. God is light, utterly removed from all darkness: therefore to be in darkness is to be cut off from Him.

If we say] With great gentleness he puts the case hypothetically, and with great delicacy he includes himself in the hypothesis. This ‘if we’ continues in almost every verse until 1Jn_2:3, after which it is changed into the equivalent ‘he that’, which continues down to 1Jn_2:11; after that neither form is used. This is one of several indications that from 1Jn_1:6 to 1Jn_2:11 is a definite division of the Epistle, based upon the introductory verse, 1Jn_1:5. With 1Jn_2:12 there is a new departure.

walk in darkness] This ‘walk’ (περιπατεῖν) is the Latin versari and signifies the ordinary course of life. The word in this sense is frequent in S. Paul and in S. John. Comp. 1Jn_2:6; 1Jn_2:11; 2Jn_1:4; 2Jn_1:6; 3Jn_1:3-4; Rev_21:24; Joh_8:12. It expresses not merely action, but habitual action. A life in moral darkness can no more have communion with God, than a life in a coal-pit can have communion with the sun. For ‘what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2Co_6:4). Light can be shut out, but it cannot be shut in. Some Gnostics taught, not merely that to the illuminated all conduct was alike, but that to reach the highest form of illumination men must experience every kind of action, however abominable, in order to work themselves free from the powers that rule the world (Eus. H. E. IV. vii. 9). ‘In darkness’ should probably be in the darkness: in 1Jn_1:6-7, as in 1Jn_2:8-9; 1Jn_2:11, both light and darkness have the article in the Greek, which is not merely generic but emphatic; that which is light indeed is opposed to that which is darkness indeed. In 2Co_6:14, ‘What communion hath light with darkness?’, neither word has the article.

we lie, and do not the truth] Antithetic parallelism, as in 1Jn_1:5. The negative statement here carries us further than the positive one: it includes conduct as well as speech. See on Joh_3:21, where ‘doing the truth’ is opposed to ‘practising evil’. It is also the opposite of ‘doing a lie’ (Rev_21:27; Rev_22:15). In LXX. ‘to do mercy and truth’ is found several times. So also S. Paul opposes truth to iniquity (1Co_13:6); shewing that neither does he confine truth to truthfulness in words. In this Epistle we find many striking harmonies in thought and language between S. John and S. Paul, quite fatal to the view that there is a fundamental difference in teaching between the two Apostles.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:7

A further inference from the first principle laid down in 1Jn_1:5: walking in the light involves not only fellowship with God but fellowship with the brethren. This verse takes the opposite hypothesis to that just considered and expands it. We often find (comp. 1Jn_1:9) that S. John while seeming to go back or repeat, really progresses and gives us something fresh. It would have enforced 1Jn_1:6, but it would have told us nothing fresh, to say ‘if we walk in the light, and say that we have fellowship with Him, we speak the truth, and do not lie’. And it is interesting to find that the craving to make this verse the exact antithesis of the preceding one has generated another reading, ‘we have fellowship with Him’, instead of ‘with one another’. This reading is as old as the second century, for Tertullian (De Pud. XIX.) quotes, ‘si vero’, inquit, ‘in lumine incedamus, communionem cum eo habebimus, et sanguis &c.’ Clement of Alexandria also seems to have known of this reading. This is evidence of the early date of our Epistle; for by the end of the second century important differences of reading had already arisen and become widely diffused.

as He is in the light] We walk, God is: we move through space and time; He is in eternity. Of Him who is everywhere, and knows no change, we can only say, ‘He is’. Comp. the similar thought of S. Paul; ‘Who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable’ (1Ti_6:16). That which is light must ever be in light. We then must make our spiritual atmosphere similar to His, that our thoughts and conduct may reflect Him.

fellowship one with another] This certainly refers to the mutual fellowship of Christians among themselves, as is clear from 1Jn_3:23, 1Jn_4:7; 1Jn_4:12; 2Jn_1:5. It does not refer to fellowship between God and man, as S. Augustine and others, desiring to make this verse parallel to 1Jn_1:6, have interpreted. S. John would scarcely express the relation between God and man by such a phrase as ‘we have fellowship with one another’ (μετ’ ἀλλήλων). Contrast ‘I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’ (Joh_20:17). In that ‘thick darkness’, which prevailed ‘in all the land of Egypt three days, they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days’ (Exo_10:22-23): i.e. there was an absolute cessation of fellowship. Society could not continue in the dark: but when the light returned, society was restored. So also in the spiritual world: when the light comes, individuals have that communion one with another which in darkness is impossible. In a similar spirit Cicero declares that real friendship is impossible without virtue (De Amic. vi. 20).

and the blood of Jesus Christ] Omit ‘Christ’ with all the oldest authorities: so also Wiclif and Tyndale’s first edition. The ‘and’ shews that this is a further consequence of walking in the light. “For this is the virtue of the Lord’s blood, that such as it has already purified from sin, and thenceforward has set in the light, it renders thenceforward pure, if they continue steadfastly walking in the light” (Tertull. De Mod. XIX.). One who walks in spiritual darkness cannot appropriate that cleansing from sin, which is wrought by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross as a propitiation for sin.

His Son] Not redundant: (1) it is a passing contradiction of Cerinthus, who taught that Jesus was a mere man when His blood was shed, for the Divine element in His nature left Him when He was arrested in the garden; and of the Ebionites, who taught that He was a mere man from His birth to His death; (2) it explains how this blood can have such virtue: it is the blood of One who is the Son of God.

cleanseth] Note the present tense of what goes on continually; that constant cleansing which even the holiest Christians need (see on Joh_13:10). One who lives in the light knows his own frailty and is continually availing himself of the purifying power of Christ’s sacrificial death. “This passage shews that the gratuitous pardon of sins is given us not once only, but that it is a benefit perpetually residing in the Church, and daily offered to the faithful” (Calvin). Note also the ‘all’; there is no limit to its cleansing power: even grievous sinners can be restored to the likeness of God, in whom is no darkness at all. This refutes by anticipation the error of the Novatians, who denied pardon to mortal sins after baptism. Comp. ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience’ (Heb_9:14), and ‘These are they which come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev_7:14).


Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:8

If we say] See on 1Jn_1:6. Doubtless there were some who said so, and more perhaps who thought so; ‘say’ need not mean more than ‘say in our hearts’. S. John’s own teaching might easily be misunderstood as encouraging such an error, if one portion of it (1Jn_3:9-10) were taken without the rest.

we have no sin] ‘To have sin’ is a phrase peculiar to S. John in N. T. There is no need to inquire whether original or actual sin is meant: the expression is quite general, covering sin of every kind. Only One human being has been able to say ‘The things pleasing to God I always do’; ‘Which of you convicteth Me of sin?’; ‘The ruler of the world hath nothing in Me’ (Joh_8:29; Joh_8:46; Joh_14:30). The more a man knows of the meaning of ‘God is light’, i.e. the more he realises the absolute purity and holiness of God, the more conscious he will become of his own impurity and sinfulness: comp. Job_9:2; Job_14:4; Job_15:14; Job_25:4; Pro_20:9; Ecc_7:20.

we deceive ourselves] Not merely we are mistaken, or are misled, but we lead ourselves astray. In the Greek it is neither the middle, nor the passive, but the active with the reflexive pronoun: the erring is all our own doing. See on 1Jn_5:21. We do for ourselves what Satan, the arch-deceiver (Rev_12:9; Rev_20:10) endeavours to do for us. The active (πλανᾷν) is frequent in S. John, especially in the Apocalypse (Rev_2:26; Rev_3:7; Rev_2:20; Rev_12:9; Rev_13:14; Rev_19:20; Rev_20:3; Rev_20:8; Rev_20:10). An examination of these passages will shew that the word is a strong one and implies serious departure from the truth: comp. Joh_7:12.

the truth is not in us] Because we are in an atmosphere of self-made darkness which shuts the truth out. The truth may be all round us, but we are not in contact with it: it is not in us. One who shuts himself in a dark room has no light, though the sun may be shining brightly. All words about truth, ‘the truth, true, truly,’ are characteristic of S. John. Note the antithetic parallelism, and see on 1Jn_1:5.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins] The opposite hypothesis is now taken and expanded, as in 1Jn_1:7; see note there. But there is no conjunction, no ‘but’, as in 1Jn_1:7; and the asyndeton is telling. Greek has such a wealth of connecting particles, that in that language asyndeton is specially remarkable. Here there is expansion and progress, not only in the second half of the verse where ‘He is faithful and righteous’ takes the place of ‘we are true’; but in the first half also; where ‘confess our sins’ takes the place of ‘say we have sin’. The latter admission costs us little: the confession of the particular sins which we have committed costs a good deal, and is a guarantee of sincerity. He who refuses to confess, may perhaps desire, but certainly does not seek forgiveness. ‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy’ (Pro_28:13). Obviously confession to Him who is ‘faithful and righteous’, and to those ‘selves’ whom we should otherwise ‘lead astray’, is all that is meant. The passage has nothing to do with the question of confession to our fellow-men.

faithful and just] Better, faithful and righteous, to bring out the contrast with ‘unrighteousness’ and the connexion with ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1Jn_2:1), where the same word (δίκαιος) is used. The Greek ‘and’ (καί) sometimes means ‘and yet’, and frequently does so in S. John: see on Joh_1:10. It is possible that it has this meaning here. ‘God is faithful (to His promises to us) and yet righteous (in hating and punishing sin)’. He keeps His promise of mercy to the penitent without losing His character for righteousness and justice. In any case beware of making ‘righteous’ a vague equivalent for ‘kind, gentle, merciful’. It means ‘just’ (which is to some extent the opposite of ‘merciful’), and affirms that God in keeping His word gives to each his due. The distinction which refers ‘faithful’ to mortal sins and ‘righteous’ to venial ones is frivolous. For ‘faithful’ in the sense of keeping promises comp. ‘He is faithful that promised’ (Heb_10:23); ‘She counted Him faithful who had promised’ (Heb_11:11): and for ‘righteous’ in the sense of giving just awards comp. ‘Righteous art Thou … because Thou didst thus judge … True and righteous are Thy judgments’ (Rev_16:5-7).

to forgive us our sins] In spite of what some eminent scholars have said to the contrary, it is perhaps true that the Greek for these words includes to some extent the idea of intention and aim. Thus the Vulgate, fidelis est et justus, ut remittat nobis peccata nostra; and Wiclif, ‘He is feithful and just that He forgeve to us oure synnes’; and the Rhemish, ‘He is faithful and just, for to forgive us our sinnes’. In S. John we find the conviction deeply rooted that all things happen in accordance with the decrees of God: events are the results of His purposes. And this conviction influences his language: so that constructions (ἵνα) which originally indicated a purpose, and which even in late Greek do not lose this meaning entirely, are specially frequent in his writings: see on Joh_5:36. It is God’s decree and aim that His faithfulness and righteousness should appear in His forgiving us and cleansing us. Comp. ‘Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned … that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest’ (Psa_51:4).

our sins] Those particular acts of sin which we have confessed, and from the punishment due for which we are thus set free. ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin’ (Psa_32:5). ‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy’ (Pro_28:13).

and to cleanse us] This is not a repetition in different words; it is a second and distinct result of our confession: 1. We are absolved from sin’s punishment; 2. We are freed from sin’s pollution. The forgiveness is the averting of God’s wrath; the cleansing is the beginning of holiness.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 1:10

that we have not sinned] This is not the same as ‘that we have no sin’ (1Jn_1:8), and therefore we have once more not repetition, but expansion and strengthening of what precedes. ‘Have no sin’ refers to a sinful state; ‘have not sinned’ refers to the actual commission of particular acts of sin: the one is the inward principle, the other is its result. But the whole context shews that neither expression refers to sins committed before baptism: no Christian would have denied these: moreover S. John does not write to the recently converted, but to those who have had time to grow lukewarm and indifferent. Both expressions refer to sin after baptism, and the perfect (ἡμαρτήκαμεν) has the common meaning of the Greek perfect, present result of past action; ‘we are in the condition of not having sinned’. This use of the perfect is specially frequent in S. John.

we make Him a liar] Worse than ‘we lead ourselves astray’ (1Jn_1:8), as that is worse than ‘we lie’ (1Jn_1:6). This use of the verb ‘make’ in the sense of ‘assert that one is’ is frequent in the Gospel: ‘He made Himself the Son of God’; ‘Every one that maketh himself a king’ (Joh_19:7; Joh_19:12; comp. Joh_5:18, Joh_8:53, Joh_10:33). God’s promise to forgive sin to the penitent would be a lie if there were no sin to be repented of. And more than this; God’s whole scheme of salvation assumes that all men are sinful and need to be redeemed: therefore those who deny their sinfulness charge God with deliberately framing a vast libel on human nature. Whereas S. Paul says, ‘Let God be found true, but every man a liar’ (Rom_3:3).

His word is not in us] God’s revelation of Himself has no home in our hearts: it remains outside us, as the light remains outside and separated from him who shuts himself up in darkness. The expressions, ‘to be in’ and ‘to abide in’, to express intimate relationship, are characteristic of S. John: and either of the things related can be said to be in the other. Thus, either ‘His word is not in us’ (comp. 1Jn_2:14), or ‘If ye abide in My word’ (Joh_8:31): either ‘The truth is not in us’ (1Jn_1:8), or ‘He standeth not in the truth’ (Joh_8:44). Sometimes the two modes of expression are combined; ‘Abide in Me, and I in you’ (Joh_15:4). ‘His word’ means especially the Gospel: as it is the sins of Christians which are being considered, the O.T., though not excluded, cannot be specially meant. ‘Word’ is more personal than ‘the truth’ (1Jn_1:8), which does not necessarily imply a speaker.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 2:1

My little children] The diminutive form (τεκνία) does not at all imply that he is addressing persons of tender age: it is a term of endearment. Wiclif has ‘litil sones’ as a rendering of the filioli of the Vulgate; Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan Version all waver between ‘babes’ (which is far too strong) and ‘little children’. Setting aside Gal_4:19, where the reading is uncertain, the word occurs only in this Epistle (1Jn_2:12; 1Jn_2:28, 1Jn_3:7; 1Jn_3:18, 1Jn_4:4, 1Jn_5:21) and once in the Gospel (Joh_13:33). Possibly it is a reminiscence of Christ’s farewell address in John 13. S. John’s conception of the Church is that of a family, in which all are children of God and brethren one of another, but in which also some who are elders stand in a parental relation to the younger brethren. Thus there were families within the family, each with its own father. And who had a better right to consider himself a father than the last surviving Apostle? “The Apostles loved and cherished that name, and all that it implied, and all that illustrated it. They much preferred it to any title which merely indicated an office. It was more spiritual; it was more personal; it asserted better the divine order; it did more to preserve the dignity and sacredness of all domestic relations” (Maurice). Comp. the story of ‘S. John and the Robber’ (p. 24).

These things] Probably refers to the preceding paragraph (1Jn_1:5-10) rather than to what follows. On the one hand they must beware of the spiritual pride which is one of the worst forms of sin: on the other they must not think that he is bidding them acquiesce in a state of sin.

I write] Henceforward the Apostle uses the more personal and direct first person singular. Only in the Introduction (1Jn_1:4) does he use the apostolic ‘write we’: contrast 1Jn_2:1; 1Jn_2:7-8; 1Jn_2:12-14; 1Jn_2:21; 1Jn_2:26, 1Jn_5:13.

that ye sin not] The Apostle is not giving a command, but stating his reason for writing thus; in order that ye may not sin. Tyndale’s first edition has ‘that ye should not sin’. That is his aim; to lead them onward to perfect holiness, to perfect likeness to God. Those who are on the one hand warned of their liability to sin, and on the other are told of what cleanses them from sin, are put in the way towards this high ideal.

And if any man sin] Or, have sinned (peccaverit): S. John is not telling the intending sinner that sin is a light matter; but the penitent sinner that sin is not irremediable. In both sentences ‘sin’ is in the aorist, and implies a definite act, not an habitual state, of sin. We are to avoid not merely a life of sin, but any sin whatever. And not merely the habitual sinner, but he who falls into a single sin, needs and has an Advocate. Sin and its remedy are stated in immediate proximity, just as they are found in life.

we have an Advocate] Just as we always have sin (1Jn_1:8), so we always have One ready to plead for pardon. S. John does not say ‘he hath an Advocate’, but ‘we have’ one: he breaks the logical flow of the sentence rather than seem not to include himself in the need and possession of an Advocate. On Advocate or Paraclete (παράκλητος) see on Joh_14:16. It means one who is summoned to the side of another, especially to serve as his helper, spokesman (causae patronus), or intercessor. The word occurs in N.T. only in S. John; here in the Epistle and four times in the Gospel (Joh_14:16; Joh_14:26, Joh_15:26, Joh_16:7). It is unlikely that S. John would use the word in totally different senses in the two writings, especially if the Epistle was written to accompany the Gospel. We must therefore find some meaning which will suit all five passages. Two renderings compete for acceptation, ‘Comforter’ and ‘Advocate’. Both make good sense in the Gospel, and (though there is by no means agreement on the point) ‘Advocate’ makes the best sense. ‘Advocate’ is the only rendering which is at all probable here: it exactly suits, the context. ‘We have a Comforter with the Father’ would be intolerable. The older English Versions (excepting Taverner, who has ‘spokesman’) all have ‘Advocate’ here; and (excepting the Rhemish, which has ‘Paraclete’) all have ‘Comforter’ in the Gospel: and of course this unanimity influenced the translators of 1611. But ‘Advocates’ as the one rendering which suits all five passages should be adopted throughout. Then we see the full meaning of Christ’s promise (Joh_14:16), ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Advocate’. Jesus Christ is one Advocate; the Holy Spirit is another. As S. Paul says, ‘the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’: and it is worthy of remark that he uses precisely the same language to express the intercession of the Spirit and the intercession of Christ (Rom_8:26-27; Rom_8:34). Comp. Heb_7:25; Heb_9:24; 1Ti_2:5. Philo’s use of the word ‘Paraclete’ throws considerable light upon its meaning. He often uses it of the high-priest with his breastplate of judgment (Exo_28:29) interceding on earth for Israel, and also of the Divine Word or Logos giving efficacy in heaven to the intercession of the priest upon earth: ‘It was necessary that the priest who is consecrated to the Father of the world should employ an Advocate most perfect in efficacy, even the Son, for the blotting-out of sins and the obtaining of abundant blessings’ (De Vita Mosis, III. xiv. 155). It is evident that the whole passage—‘the blood of Jesus cleanseth us’, ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, ‘Advocate’, ‘propitiation’—points back to the Mosaic purifications by the blood of victims, and especially to the intercession of the high-priest with the blood of the bullock and the goat on the Day of Atonement. That great type, S. John affirms, has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Comp. Heb_9:24.

with the Father] Literally, towards the Father. The idea is either that of turning towards in order to plead with Him; or, as in 1Jn_1:2 and Joh_1:1, at home with Him, ever before His face. ‘The Father’ rather than ‘God’, to bring out the point that our Advocate is His Son, and that through Him we also are made sons. It is not a stern judge but a loving Father before whom He has to plead.

Jesus Christ the righteous] Or, a righteous one: there is no article in the Greek. But in English ‘the righteous’ comes nearer to the Greek than the apparently more exact ‘a righteous one’. It is as being righteous Himself that He can so well plead with the ‘righteous Father’ (Joh_17:25; 1Jn_1:9) for those who are not righteous. And, as Bede remarks, “a righteous advocate does not undertake unrighteous causes.” It is the Sinless Man, the perfected and glorified Jesus, who pleads for sinners before the Throne of God. Note that neither in the body of the Epistle, any more than in the body of the Gospel, does S. John speak of Christ as ‘the Word’. In both cases that title is used in the Introduction only. When he speaks of the historic person Jesus Christ, S. John uses the name by which He is known in history. Of the perfect righteousness of this Man S. John has personal knowledge, and he alludes to it repeatedly in this Epistle.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 2:2

And He is the propitiation] Or, And He Himself is a propitiation: there is no article in the Greek. Note the present tense throughout; ‘we have an Advocate, He is a propitiation’: this condition of things is perpetual, it is not something which took place once for all long ago. In His glorified Body the Son is ever acting thus. Contrast ‘He laid down His life for us’ (1Jn_3:16). Beware of the unsatisfactory explanation that ‘propitiation’ is the abstract for the concrete, ‘propitiation’ (ἱλασμός) for ‘propitiator’ (ἱλαστήρ). Had S. John written ‘propitiator’ we should have lost half the truth; viz. that our Advocate propitiates by offering Himself. He is both High Priest and Victim, both Propitiator and Propitiation. It is quite obvious that He is the former; the office of Advocate includes it. It is not at all obvious that He is the latter: very rarely does an advocate offer himself as a propitiation.

The word for ‘propitiation’ occurs nowhere in N. T. but here and in 1Jn_4:10; in both places without the article and followed by ‘for our sins’. It signifies any action which has expiation as its object, whether prayer, compensation, or sacrifice. Thus ‘the ram of the atonement’ (Num_5:8) is ‘the ram of the propitiation’ or ‘expiation’, where the same Greek word as is used here is used in the LXX. Comp. Eze_44:27; Num_29:11; Lev_25:9. The LXX. of ‘there is forgiveness with Thee’ (Psa_130:4) is remarkable: literally rendered it is ‘before Thee is the propitiation’ (ὁ ἱλασμός). So also the Vulgate, apud Te propitiatio est. And this is the idea that we have here: Jesus Christ, as being righteous, is ever present before the Lord as the propitiation. With this we should compare the use of the cognate verb in Heb_2:17 and cognate substantive Rom_3:25 and Heb_9:5. From these passages it is clear that in N. T. the word is closely connected with that special form of expiation which takes place by means of an offering or sacrifice, although this idea is not of necessity included in the radical signification of the word itself. See notes in all three places.

for our sins] Literally, concerning (περἱ) our sins: our sins are the matter respecting which the propitiation goes on. This is the common form of expression in LXX. Comp. Num_29:11; Exo_30:15-16; Exo_32:30; Lev_4:20; Lev_4:26; Lev_4:31; Lev_4:35, &c. &c. Similarly, in Joh_8:46, ‘Which of you convicteth Me of sin?’ is literally, ‘Which of you convicteth Me concerning sin?’ Comp. Joh_16:8; Joh_10:33. Notice that it is ‘our sins’, not ‘our sin’: the sins which we are daily committing, and not merely the sinfulness of our nature, are the subject of the propitiation.

and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world] More literally, but also for the whole world: ‘the sins of’ is not repeated in the Greek and is not needed in English. Once more we have a parallel with the Gospel, and especially with chap. 17. ‘Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that shall believe on Me through their word … that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me … that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them, even as Thou lovedst Me’ (Joh_17:20-23): ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (Joh_1:29): ‘We know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world’ (Joh_4:24). Comp. 1Jn_4:14. S. John’s writings are so full of the fundamental opposition between Christ or believers and the world, that there was danger lest he should seem to give his sanction to a Christian exclusiveness as fatal as the Jewish exclusiveness out of which he and other converts from Judaism had been delivered. Therefore by this (note especially ‘the whole world’) and other plain statements both in Gospel (see Joh_11:51 in particular) and Epistle he insists that believers have no exclusive right to the merits of Christ. The expiatory offering was made for the whole world without limitation. All who will may profit by it: quam late peccatum, tam late propitiatio (Bengel). The disabilities under which the whole human race had laboured were removed. It remained to be seen who would avail themselves of the restored privileges. ‘The world’ (ὁ κόσμος) is another of S. John’s characteristic expressions. In his writings it generally means those who are alienated from God, outside the pale of the Church. But we should fall into grievous error if we assigned this meaning to the word indiscriminately. Thus, in ‘the world was made by Him’ (Joh_1:10) it means ‘the universe’; in ‘This is of a truth the Prophet that cometh into the world’ (Joh_6:14) it means ‘the earth’; in ‘God so loved the world’ (Joh_3:16) it means, as here, ‘the inhabitants of the earth, the human race’. But still the prevalent meaning in both Gospel and Epistle is a bad one; ‘those who have not accepted the Christ, unbelievers.’ In the Apocalypse it occurs only thrice, once in the usual sense, ‘The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord’ (Joh_11:15), and twice in the sense of ‘the universe’ (Joh_13:8, Joh_17:8).

Cambridge Bible

1 John 2:3

hereby we do know that we know Him] Or, herein we come to know that we know Him: in the Greek we have the present and perfect of the verb which means ‘to come to know, perceive, recognise’ (γινώσκειν); the perfect of which, ‘I have come to know’ = ‘I know.’ Comp. the Collect for the First Sunday after Epiphany; ‘that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do.’ Progressive knowledge gained by experience is implied. ‘Herein’ followed by ‘if’, or ‘that’, or ‘because’, or ‘when, is a frequent construction in S. John: Joh_2:5; Joh_3:16; Joh_3:19; Joh_4:9-10; Joh_4:13; Joh_4:17; Joh_5:2; Joh_13:35; Joh_15:8. Excepting Luk_10:20, it occurs nowhere else in N. T.

if we keep His commandments] This is equivalent to ‘not sinning’ in 1Jn_2:1, and to ‘walking in the light’ in 1Jn_1:6. There is no real knowledge of God, no fellowship with Him, without practical conformity to His will. Nam quisquis eum non amat, profecto ostendit, quia quam sit amabilis, non novit (Bede). S. John is again condemning that Gnostic doctrine which made excellence to consist in mere intellectual enlightenment. Divorced from holiness of life, says S. John, no enlightenment can be a knowledge of God. In his system of Christian Ethics the Apostle insists no less than Aristotle, that in morals knowledge without practice is worthless: ‘not speculation but conduct’ is the aim of both the Christian and the heathen philosopher. Mere knowledge will not do: nor will knowledge ‘touched by emotion’ do. It is possible to know, and admire, and in a sort of way love, and yet act as if we had not known. But S. John gives no encouragement to devotion without a moral life (comp. 1Jn_1:6). There is only one way of proving to ourselves that we know God, and that is by loving obedience to His will. Compare the very high standard of virtue set by Aristotle: he only is a virtuous man who does virtuous acts, “first, knowingly; secondly, from deliberate preference, and deliberate preference for the sake of the acts (and not any advantages resulting from them); and thirdly, with firm and unvarying purpose” (Nic. Eth. II. iv. 3).

The phrase ‘to keep (His) commandments’ or ‘keep (His) word’ is of frequent occurrence in S. John’s writings, Gospel (Joh_14:15; Joh_14:21; Joh_15:10; Joh_8:51-52; Joh_8:55; Joh_14:23; Joh_15:20; Joh_17:6), Epistle (1Jn_2:4, 1Jn_3:22; 1Jn_3:24; 1Jn_3:5:[2,] 3; 1Jn_2:5) and Revelation (Rev_12:17, Rev_14:12; Rev_3:8; Rev_3:10). Comp. Joh_14:24; Rev_22:7; Rev_22:9. The word ‘to keep’ (τηρεῖν) means to be on the watch to obey and fulfil; it covers both outward and inward observance.

Cambridge Bible

1 John 2:5

The statement in 1Jn_2:3 is still further emphasized by taking the opposite of 1Jn_2:4; but with this we do not return to 1Jn_2:3, but have an expansion of it.

His word] A wider expression than ‘His commandments’, covering the sum total of the revelation of God’s will: comp. 1Jn_2:14. Thus Christ says, ‘He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me’ (Joh_14:21).

verily] Or, truly, or, of a truth. S. John uses this word (ἀληθῶς) about 8 times; and in the rest of N. T. it occurs about 8 times: see on 1Jn_1:6. It must not be confounded with the ‘verily’ (ἀμήν) in our Lord’s discourses. Here it stands first for emphasis; verily in him: comp. Joh_8:31.

is the love of God perfected] Or, the love of God hath been perfected. We need both renderings in order to bring out the full force of the Greek, which means ‘has been made perfect and remains so’. Obedience, not feeling, is the test of perfect love. This declaration shews that it is quite wrong to make ‘we know Him’ in 1Jn_2:3 and ‘I know Him’ in 1Jn_2:4 a Hebraism for ‘love Him’. Even if ‘know’ is ever used in the sense of ‘love’, which may be doubted, S. John would hardly in the same sentence use ‘know’ in two totally different senses (1Jn_2:3). S. John’s mention of love here shews that when he means ‘love’ he writes ‘love’ and not ‘know’. He declares that true knowledge involves love, but they are not identical, any more than convex and concave. ‘The love of God’ here means ‘the love of man to God’: this is the common usage in this Epistle (1Jn_2:15, 1Jn_3:17, 1Jn_4:12, 1Jn_5:3). Only once is the genitive subjective and means ‘the love of God for man’; and there the context makes this quite clear (1Jn_4:9). ‘Love,’ both verb and substantive, is one of S. John’s favourite words. His Gospel is the Gospel of Love and his Epistle the Epistle of Love. ‘To perfect’ is also much more common in his writings than elsewhere in N. T., excepting the Epistle to the Hebrews, especially in the passive voice (1Jn_4:12; 1Jn_4:17-18; Joh_17:23; Joh_19:28). S. John is here speaking, as often in this Epistle, of an ideal state of things. No Christian’s love to God is perfect: but the more perfect his knowledge, the more perfect his obedience and his love.

hereby we know] Or, Herein we come to know: it is the same phrase as in 1Jn_2:3, and should probably, as there, be taken with what follows, rather than with what precedes. It belongs to 1Jn_2:6 more than to 1Jn_2:5, and is parallel to 1Jn_1:6.


Cambridge Bible

1 John 2:6

He that saith] He who declares his position is morally bound to act up to the declaration which he has made. To profess to abide in God involves an obligation to imitate the Son, who is the concrete expression of God’s will. ‘To abide’ is another of the Apostle’s very favourite expressions, a fact greatly obscured in A. V. by capricious changes of rendering: see on 1Jn_2:24. ‘To abide in’ implies habitual fellowship. Note the climax; to know Him (1Jn_2:3), to be in Him (1Jn_2:5), to abide in Him (1Jn_2:6): cognitio, communio, constantia (Bengel).

ought] It is a debt which he owes (ὀφείλει, debet). S. John does not say ‘must’ (δεῖ, oportet) which might seem to imply constraint. The obligation is internal and personal. ‘Must’ (δεῖ), frequent in the Gospel, does not occur in these Epistles.

even as He walked] Not simply ‘as’ (ὡς) but ‘even as’ (καθώς): the imitation must be exact. The ‘He’ is a different pronoun (ἐκεῖνος) from the preceding ‘Him’ (αὐτῷ), and this with the context makes it almost certain that while ‘in Him’ means ‘in God’, ‘even as He walked’ refers to Christ. Comp. 1Jn_3:3; 1Jn_3:5; 1Jn_3:7; 1Jn_3:16, 1Jn_4:17. For ‘even as’ comp. 1Jn_2:18; 1Jn_2:27, 1Jn_3:2; 1Jn_3:12; 1Jn_3:23; Luk_6:36, &c. &c. and for ‘even as He’ comp. 1Jn_3:3; 1Jn_3:7, 1Jn_4:17. S. Peter declares that Christ has ‘left us an example, that we should follow His steps’ (1Pe_2:21).


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