1 John



Proposition: God is light


John opens his epistle with a preface concerning the logos, "the Word." For John, this life-giving Word was actualised in Jesus, and so, in order to build community with his fellow believers, he sets out to pass on all he has seen and heard. In verse 5, John identifies the defining truth that will guide all that he writes: God is like a radiant light who puts darkness to flight.


i] Context: Other than an introduction and conclusion, this circular letter / sermon presents as a rambling unbroken word of encouragement. The letter seeks to confirm the basis of belief for the Christian community (against an unidentified heretical intrusion), namely that God is light / life / love. John sets out to encourage the community to live out their faith / belief in godly lives, wrestling with sin, living in brotherly love and fellowship with one another.

These notes do give a nod to Duane Watson (JSNT, 35, 51) who suggests that the letter is an example of deliberative rhetoric with 1:5 serving as the partitio / thesis, or summary proof, "God is light", and 5:13-21 serving as a peroratio / conclusion. The probatio / argument-proper, covers the rest of the letter. There is some evidence that the argument-proper presents in three blocks which repeatedly work over the major themes. This spiral structure develops the proposition that "God is light / life", which reality is applied by living in love, purity and faith. The three major segments consist of 1:6-2:29 (3:9?), 3:1-4:6, 4:7-5:13.

Simple thematic structures may be found in the New Bible Commentary, IVP press, or David Jackman's commentary in the Bible Speaks Today series. Plummer and Alexander Ross opt for God is Light, 1:5-2:29, God is Love, 3:1-5:12. Gordon H. Clark opts for a slightly more complex structure: Fellowship with the Father tested by righteousness, love and belief, 1:5-2:6; Our Sonship tested by righteousness, love and belief, 2:29-4:6; Closer correlation of righteousness, love and belief, 4:7-5:21.


ii] Background: Most commentators agree that 1 John is a general epistle addressed to a loose association of congregations under John's pastoral oversight, congregations who are facing a test of faith. It is likely that these congregations are being seduced by a sectarian group that claims to possess a higher knowledge that strikes at the heart of the divine nature of Christ and his redemptive work. Clearly doctrinal / ethical problems have developed in the churches addressed by this letter resulting in some members breaking fellowship, but continuing to influence those who remain. The particular issue prompting this secession is unclear, but it seems to be related to law-obedience in the Christian life, 2:4, how that is related to the person and work of Christ, 4:1-3, and realised in faith and love, 3:23. Defining this higher knowledge is fraught given that John is focused on shoring up the faith of his readers, assuring them of their standing in Christ, rather than exposing the heresy they face.

Wahlde argues that the heresy is perfectionism. The opponents have focused on the gift of the Spirit, of the present-day eschatological manifestation of the Spirit upon all who believe, a gift paralleled with Jesus' reception of the Spirit - ie., like him they are Sons of God. This gifting supersedes the need to address the received tradition since knowledge is inherent in the gifting; it supersedes the need to wrestle with the problem of sin and the need for applied ethics / love, since the gifting washes them clean of sin; it supersedes the need for church authority, or organisation / ritual since the gifting makes church polity unnecessary.

Yet, a more likely scenario was proposed by Terry Griffith in his article A Non-Polemical Reading of 1 John , Tyndale Bulletin 49, 1998. He argued that the issue is simply a drift of some Jewish Christians back to Judaism, which situation the author seeks to address pastorally. This view seems to be on the right track, although not necessarily limited to Jewish Christians. What we have here is the old problem faced square on by the apostle Paul, the heresy of nomism, where full-standing in Christ, and thus the appropriation of God's promised blessings, is attained by a faithful attention to the law. For John, as with Paul, a person who believes in Christ already possesses the fullness of God's promised blessings. Nothing can be added to what a believer already possesses in Christ through faith. And as for the law, it is wholly encapsulated in the fruit of love, of brotherly love. What then is God's command? Is it to obey the law? No! "This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us", 1Jn.3:23.

Of course, nomism by it's very nature tends to promote perfectionism; "they devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers", Mk.12:40. Anyway, the issue is that the secessionists are drawing members from John's congregations to their new way of thinking, and John, an aged pastor, is trying to warn those under his charge of the heresy, assuring the members of his churches that they are indeed already fully Christian, 1Jn.5:13. See "Issues [iii] - The nature of the secessionists' denial of Christ


iii] Structure: The prologue for John's first letter:

John's authority as an eyewitness, v1-3;

the purpose of his letter / sermon, v4;

the basic proposition upon which his letter rests, v5:

the character of God.


iv] Interpretation:

John's core argument: John makes a simple point in this letter: faith in Christ produces eternal life and this life, now evident in us, produces love - a holiness of life. Lenski identifies 1:1-4 as the core of the letter, but it is more likely v5, "God is light", exegeted in 4:8 as "God is love." Using the imagery of the Old Testament, John focuses on the character of God, his holiness, moral excellence, purity; he is like a radiant light who puts darkness / evil to flight. As Yarbrough notes, it is "clear that the community John addresses is beset by darkness of a doctrinal, ethical, or relational nature, or some combination of the three. .... Doctrinal error calls for corrective teaching, .... Ethical negligence calls for fresh imperatives, .... Relational breakdown calls for reinvigorated love for God and persons." Standing over these needs, and with the power to correct them, is a God who radiates the light of pure love. God is "by his very nature" (Akin) "light", pure efficacious love, which light is evident in Christ - "put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light", Jn.12:36.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 1:1

Preface: John first establishes the intent of his letter, v1-4. This letter concerns the life-giving Word - a Word which is life. From the very beginning the Word of life is revealed to humanity (logos = Jesus = the gospel). Jesus' disciples heard it, saw it with their very eyes, fixed their gaze upon it and even touched it. Having seen and heard they proclaimed, v3. Howard notes that the main verb apaggellomen, "we proclaim", appears late in the sentence because John wants to emphasise the Word / gospel itself, rather than the act of proclaiming it.

ap (apo) + gen. "from" - [we proclaim to you what was] from. Expressing source / origin / temporal.

archV (h) gen. "beginning" - the beginning, first. What beginning has John got in mind here? There are numerous possibilities. It is often understood that John is making the point that the logos, "Word", preexisted the incarnation, even the creation. Yet, it seems more likely that John is speaking about the beginning of the revelation of the logos in the ministry of Jesus. John and his fellow apostles were there at the beginning of Jesus' ministry; they heard, saw and touched.

akhkoamen (akouw) perf. "we have heard" - [which] we have heard. The perfect tense expresses an action in the past which has ongoing consequences. "What we have heard with our ears", Moffatt.

eJwrakamen (oJraw) perf. "seen" - [which] we have seen, perceived. "Saw with our own eyes", Barclay.

toiV ofqalmoiV (oV) dat. "with [our] eyes" - in = with the eyes [of us]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means.

eqeasameqa (qeaomai) aor. "we have looked at" - we behold, looked at. "Something we had opportunity to observe closely", Phillips.

eyhlafhsan (yhlafaw) "touched" - [and the hand of us] touched, felt after, groped after. John is emphasising the physical nature of the Word's incarnation. Jesus was not an apparition. "Touched with our own hands", Barclay.

peri + gen. "this we proclaim concerning" - concerning. Expressing reference / respect; "about, concerning, with respect to." The logos is obviously that which was from the beginning, which, after Christ's incarnation, John and company had seen and touched ... John sets out to communicate "about, concerning" the logos, the Word. The NIV "this we proclaim" serves to bring forward the main verb apaggellomen, "we proclaim", v3. Berkeley actually heads this verse with the verb, "We announce to you the Word of Life", so also Barclay, "Our theme is the Word which is life." This sentence arrangement is to be preferred. So, the prepositional phrase serves to specify the subject matter, that which "we have seen ..."; "The life-giving Word is our subject", Cassirer.

tou logou (oV) gen. "the Word" - the word. The logos, the Word made flesh = Christ = the gospel. Harris argues that the logoV is never personified and when used elsewhere in this letter it is not identified with Jesus. His argument is overly restrictive.

thV zwhV (h) gen. "of life" - of life. The genitive is adjectival, possibly attributive, limiting "Word"; "life-giving Word". possibly appositional, "the Word which is life", Barclay = "the divine life which is Christ", Zerwick. Those opposed to an attributive use opt for verbal, objective. The word "life" is used in John of that which is "pre-eminently life, life par excellence", Zerwick. It is the life-force of God himself, and is "eternal", cf., v2, as compared to human life which is ephemeral. It is this life which John and his companions have found in the logos / Jesus, have assimilated to themselves, and bear witness to that all may share in eternal life. "Eternal life is the primary object of the Johannine promise to believers in both the Gospel and the Letters of John", Wahlde.


In a parenthetical statement John explains that the logos, the Word of life / life-giving Word / Word which is life, is not just words, it is not an it, but personal, embodied in Jesus, one who is in a relationship with the Father.

kai "-" - and. Quite possibly epexegetic here, introducing a parenthesis, cf., AV, NRSV, etc. John now explains what was implied in v1, namely, that "the life appeared ......"

hJ zwh "the life" - Nominative subject of the verb "to appear." "Life" as in "life force", "vitality", that quality of the divine as above.

efanrwqh (fanerow) aor. pas. "appeared" - was made clear, made visible, manifested, revealed.

marturoumen (marturew) pres. "testify" - [and we have seen and] we bear witness, we give testimony. The word has a legal background. The change in tense to the present indicates the ongoing consequences of "we have seen", perfect tense. "We saw it and are giving our testimony", NJB.

apaggellomen (apaggellw) pres. "we proclaim" - [and] we announce, preach, proclaim, report. Used of the apostolic preaching, or better, the communication of the gospel, which witness is preserved for us in the New Testament.

uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - Dative of indirect object.

aiwnion adj. "eternal" - [the life] eternal. It is likely that this "eternal life", "life which is eternal", is the logos, the Word, the incarnate Christ, Jesus, the gospel. He is the one who exists with God, has appeared to John and company, and of whom they testify.

proV + acc. "with" - [which was] toward [the father]. Here expressing association, as NIV. The "life / eternal life", which was with the Father, alludes to the prologue of John's gospel. 1:1, 18.

hJmin dat. pro. "to us" - [and was manifested] to us. Dative of indirect object.


John now announces the purpose of his letter, namely, to share the Word of Life with his readers so that they may enter more fully into fellowship with him.

uJmin dat. pro. "[we proclaim] to you" - [what we have seen and we have heard] we proclaim and = also] to you. Dative of indirect object; "we make known to you what we have seen and heard."

iJna + subj. "so that" - that. Serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose.

kai uJmeiV "you" - you [and = also]. This construction is emphatic.

exchte (ecw) pres. subj. "may have" - The present tense is durative; "The author's purpose is to ensure that his readers persist in the fellowship they have with him", Kruse.

koinwnia "fellowship" - partnership, sharing in, fellowship. The accusative object of the verb "to have." The meaning here carries the sense of close intimate sharing / partnership both with the Father through Christ, and by extension, an intimate sharing / partnership with other believers. "The harmonious association of those who believe as the author believes", Wahlde.

meq (meta) + gen. "with [us]" - Expressing association.

hJ hJmetera adj. "our [fellowship]" - [but/and and = indeed] our [fellowship]. The adjective is used interchangeably with the preposition hJmwn.

meta + gen. "is with" - is with [the father]. Expressing association. It is interesting how John makes a point of having fellowship with the Father and the Son. It is likely that this statement reflects the distinction the sectarians are drawing between the Father and the Son.

autou gen. pro. "his [Son]" - [and with the son] of him. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

Ihsou Cristou (oV) gen. "Jesus Christ" - Standing in apposition to "Son".


John expects that this letter will bring him great joy. Presumably because his restatement of gospel-truth concerning the logos, the Word of Life, will restore fellowship in his church/es.

grafomen (grafw) pres. "We write" - [and these things] we write [we]. John is possibly using the royal / epistolary plural, or "we apostles", even possibly "we Jews". Kruse argues that John's use of the present tense here indicates he is in the process of writing at this moment. Later he will use the aorist tense to express that the letter is a complete composition. Note the emphatic use of the personal pronoun uJmeiV, "we".

tauta "this" - these things. Direct object of the verb "to write." Most likely the contents of the letter, but possibly the gospel.

iJna + subj. "to [make]" - in order that. Expressing purpose, in order that; "that our joy may be complete", Moffatt.

hJmwn "our" - [the joy] of us. There is some manuscript evidence for "your" and this would certainly fit with the context.

hJ cara (a) "joy" - Nominative subject of the paraphrastic construction "may be made full." A sense of warm assurance in the love of God rather than a bubbly emotion.

h\/ peplhrwmenh (plhrow) perf. pas. part. "complete" - may be made full, filled up, given fullness, completeness. The present tense of the verb to-be (subjunctive for the hina clause) with the perfect participle forms a periphrastic perfect construction, probably serving to accentuate the completeness. Either middle or passive. "Full" is probably the best meaning; "a joy that is full and overflowing."


Proposition: God is light, the revelation of divine love, v5. John's words of encouragement to his readers are guided by the character of God, by his holiness, moral excellence, purity; he is like a radiant light who puts darkness to flight.

auth adj. "this [is]" - this. Predicate nominative pointing forward, not back, ie., referring to what follows.

hJ aggelia (a) "the message" - the message, report. Nominative subject of the verb "to hear." The word is used only twice in the NT, both in this letter. There is probably nothing special in its use = kerugma, "apostolic tradition", euaggellion, "important message / report" = the gospel.

ap (apo) + gen. "from" - [we have heard] from. Expressing source / origin.

autou gen. pro. "him" - him. Obviously Jesus. As Christ's apostles, John and his companions received divine revelation directly from Jesus and, under his direction, pass that "message" on to those who have not had the privilege of direct revelation.

uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - [and proclaim] to you. Dative of indirect object.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what is proclaimed, namely that God is light, although it may also stand in for iJna + subj. and introduce an epexegetic clause specifying the content of auth, "this"; "this is the message ...., namely that ...."

fwV "light" - [god is] light. Predicate nominative. As above, light is revelation, a light evident in Christ, life-changing, life-giving. "God is light and doesn't have any darkness in him", CEV.

en + dat. "in" - [and] in [him]. Local, expressing space / metaphorical; "in his being."

oudemia adj. "at all" - [there is not] nothing. Often used as a substantive, but it is generally agreed that the use here is adjectival, limiting "darkness", as NIV, "none whatsoever", "none at all." Note the double negative effect with ou, "not." Whatever the darkness, ethical, theological, relational, within the being of God it is dispelled by his radiance.

skotia (a) "darkness" - Predicate nominative. God is pure and holy and so there is no darkness / untruth in Him.


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