1 John



Christian certainties


Against the trouble-makers, the secessionists, those claiming knowledge, John has argued that the divine light is evident in purity of life, love and faith, rather than humanly devised wisdom. None-the-less, believers do possess knowledge and so John concludes his letter by affirming the knowledge possessed by his readers: We know we have eternal life. We know that our God hears us when we approach him in prayer. We know that he forgives us when we ask him. We know that, in Christ, our failings will not condemn us to death. We know that, in Christ, we are orientated to right living rather than sin. We know that our God keeps us safe from the evil one. We know that we belong to God, whereas secular man (specifically the secessionists / opponents / troublemakers / those who "went out from us") belongs to the evil one. We know that, in Christ, we have found the living God, the source of truth and life.


i] Context: See 1:1-5. It is unclear whether v13 should be taken with 4:15-5:12, so Schnackenburg, or a stand-alone, NRSV, or serving to introduce the conclusion / summary / epilogue, so most commentators. Yarbrough has v13 linked to v14 and 15, a frame adopted by most translations. He titles the unit "Confident Prayer", with v16-21 titled "Concluding Admonition: Pastoral Counsel, Assurance, and Warning."


ii] Background: See 1:1-5.


iii] Structure: The conclusion to John's letter:

The letter's purpose, v13:

"that you may know you have eternal life."

Confidence in Christ, v14-20:

Confidence in prayer, v14-15;

Confidence in forgiveness, v16-17;

Confidence of ones standing in Christ, v18-20;

Concluding exhortation, v21.


The structure of this conclusion / summary is built around the key word οιδαμεν, "we know", v15a, 15c, 18, 19, 20.


iv] Interpretation:

In this conclusion, John specifically states why he has written this homily, namely, to assure his readers that they do in fact possess eternal life and this because their faith is founded on a true knowledge of the living God in and through Christ, the Son of God. Their lives may not be perfect, they may sin, but through prayer there is forgiveness and new life. Such a person, in a relationship with God in Christ ("born of God"), will be protected from the evil one and so will not practice ("continue to") sin. Secular humanity (specifically, those "who went out from us"), on the other hand, are locked in sin that leads to death, "the sin that results from holding the viewpoint of the opponents. This type of sin cannot be prayed for", Wahlde. To this end, John encourages his readers to keep well clear of the secular lifestyle of the secessionists and their beliefs.

The ambiguities of life, by their very nature, undermine a believer's sense of standing in the sight of God and thus their grasp on eternal life, ie., it undermines their assurance. Assurance can be further impacted by fellow believers who have left the church fellowship and now claim a superior standing in the sight of God. John, in addressing this issue, affirms the standing of his readers by pointing to the evidence of their relationship with God, their being "sons of God", namely, their right-living (they don't "practice" sin), their brotherly love and their Christ-centred faith. Assurance again comes to the fore in this conclusion to John's letter with what Lieu calls a series of "triumphal declarations"; what "we know."


What does John mean by ἁμαρτια προς θανατον , "sin that leads to death"? The preposition προς expresses result, "sin that results in death." The prepositional construction is adjectival, limiting "sin", "a sin which leads to death"; "deadly sin", Barclay, "mortal sin", Zerwick.

This sin probably entails a rejection of orthodox Christology, a fundamental rejection of the person and work of Christ. Such sin aligns with the sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus' comment regarding this sin sits in the context of the Pharisees rejecting Christ as messiah and attributing his ministry to Satan. Such identifies the nature of a deadly sin. John seems to imply that there is no point praying for such a sin; it is beyond God's forgiveness. This is obviously the case if a person remains in this state of rebellion. Where there is no repentance there can be no forgiveness. There is no point praying for a person's forgiveness if they evidence no repentance. We may pray that they be receptive to the gospel, although there is no promise that God will overrule the will of those who intentionally turn their back on him. Scripture is clear on the matter; where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness. So, it seems likely that "the sin to death / the deadly sin" entails a state of opposition to the person of Christ. Of course, a person can move from opposition to Jesus, to trust in Jesus. Jesus' family initially thought that Jesus was possessed, but they inevitably believed and obviously now possess eternal life. Paul also serves as another example of someone diametrically opposed to Christ who then dramatically looks to Christ for salvation. It is likely that a "sin to death" does not preclude repentance and forgiveness.

Alternate views:

*The classic approach to this problem is to divide sins up into mortal (murder, adultery, idolatry, apostasy, ...) and venial sins, with the more modern version being intentional and unintentional sins.

*Bultman may solve our problem from the outset since he argues that a definition is impossible due to John's imprecise language.

*Schnackenburg argues that the sin is serious and so it must be left to God to resolve the matter.

*Brown suggests that the sin is the sin of secession, a direct reference by John to the secessionists / trouble-makers. Yet, rather than the sin of secession itself, it is more likely that John has in mind the sin of the secessionists, their denial "that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh, and also their denial of the significance of his atoning death", Kruse.

*Yarbrough suggests that sin unto death "is simply violation of the fundamental terms of relationship with God that Jesus mediates", namely, the three dimensional qualities evident in a child of God: right living, ethics; love of the brotherhood; faith in the foundational truths of scripture. "To sin unto death" is to have a heart unchanged by God's love in Christ and so to persist in convictions and acts and commitments" evident in the secessionists. It is inappropriate to take up such a person's case before God. So also Marshall; "John means the sins that are incompatible with being a child of God."

*Lieu points out that "the grounds of the distinction that the author wishes to make (between the sin unto death and the sin not unto death) are not evident." He suggests that the sin unto death is possibly "the sin the perpetrator refuses to acknowledge", or "the deliberate separation from the community ...... expressed in the refusal to love fellow members and in the schism lying behind 2:18."

*Smalley argues that "sin unto death" entails "such wrongdoing as is incompatible with walking in the light and living as a child of God."

*Thompson observes that intercession for forgiveness is related to repentance. Intercession for the unrepentant is expressly forbidden as part of God's judgment on them. See Intercession in the Johannine Community, Thompson, 237-42.


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

Text - 5:13

What "we know": i] I write that you may know eternal life, v13. John writes to assure his readers that their eternal standing in the sight of God is secure. John has gone to some length in his letter, pointing out that his readers have put their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and so their eternal standing is secure.

It is worth comparing the wording used here and that of John 20:31. In the gospel, John's purpose in writing is that people may believe in Jesus, ie., the gospel has an evangelistic purpose. Here John writes to reassure those who already believe that their eternal standing is secure in Jesus.

ὑμιν dat. pro. "to you" - [i wrote these things] to you. Dative of indirect object.

τοις πιστευουσιν [πιστεως] dat. pres. part. "who believe" - to the ones believing. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to the dative pronoun "you". "The who believe are those who, along with the author, continue in the teaching about Jesus Christ that they heard from the beginning", Kruse.

εις + acc. "in" - into. The sense is often interchangeable with εν, "in", both expressing association / incorporative union, although here possibly just expressing the object of belief, so Culy; "to you who have come to rest your faith in ...", Cassirer.

το ονομα [α ατος] "the name" - the name. A person's name reflects their person, and when used of Jesus, his authority is often in mind; to believe in the name is to believe in the person. John writes to those who have committed themselves to the one who has the authority to bestow eternal life.

του υἱου [ος] gen. "of the son" - of the son. The genitive is best taken as adjectival, possessive, "the name that belongs to ...."

του θεου [ος] gen. "of God" - of god. The genitive is adjectival, relational, although John uses the term "Son of God" as a title for the messiah, the anointed one of God, rather than to indicate a filial relationship.

ἱνα + subj. "so that" - that. Here serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that."

ειδητε [οιδα] perf. subj. "you may know" - you may know. John's readers have been disturbed by a group of secessionists who have questioned elements of orthodox Christianity, claiming a special revelation through the Spirit. John wants to assure his readers of the authenticity of the teaching first proclaimed by the apostles and thus assure them of their possession of eternal life; "to give you the assurance that", Barclay.

ὁτι "that" - that [you have life eternal]. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they may know.


ii] Confidence in prayer, v14-15. John goes on to reinforce the assurance of his readers by pointing out that God not only hears their prayers, but answerers them. In the face of life's difficulties and failures, God stands beside his children. Yet, John adds an important qualification, namely, that the prayer be "according to his will." We can be sure we have what we have asked of God as long as it is "according to his will." We sometimes forget that the Bible records God's promises to us and it is these promises that God will fulfil through prayer. In the next verses John looks at one such promise, the promise of forgiveness.

και "-" - and. The conjunction here is unexpected. Obviously some link exists with v13, but it is unclear what that link might be. One possibility is that John writes, not just to assure his readers that they have eternal life, but also to specifically remind them that they have access to God in prayer, v14-15, particularly as it relates to sin, sin that does not inevitably lead to death, and this because of a prayer for forgiveness, v16-17.

παρρησια [α] "confidence" - [this is the] boldness, complete confidence [we have]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. This is the fourth use of this word in this letter. On each occasion it expresses the complete confidence possessed by a believer, here with respect to prayer (for forgiveness). Although most translations opt for "confidence", John may have in mind boldness before God, of a believer's right, in Christ, to stand before God with freedom of access and speech; "how bold and free we then become in his presence", Peterson, "our fearlessness toward him consists in this", NJB.

προς + acc. "in approaching [God]" - toward [him]. Spacial. The NIV assumes that the antecedent of "him" is God. Presumably this is also the case for "according to his will" and "he hears us."

ὁτι "that" - Here introducing an epexegetic clause specifying "the confidence."

εαν + subj. "if" - if [we ask anything] . Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ..... then he hears us"

κατα + acc. "according to" - according to [the will of him]. Expressing a standard; "corresponding to, in accordance with." On many occasions the codicil "according to his will" is not present with respect to prayer. Clearly it is assumed, although the assumption is often ignored. So, in the next verse, the "whatever we ask" = "whatever we ask according to his will." Given the context, the specific matter of prayer is the forgiveness of sin. John defines such a sin as one that "does not lead to death." There is a sin that does lead to death, that is beyond God's forgiveness - obviously the sin Jesus identifies as the sin against the Holy Spirit. Here specifically referring to the secessionists and their denial of orthodox Christology - to deny the person of Christ, turn from him, is to face eternal loss.

ἡμων gen. pro. "us" - [he hears] us. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear." The word "hears" implies active response.


εαν + subj. "if" - [and] if [we know]. This construction would usually introduce a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then whatever we ask ..." Yet, here it seems to express a strong possibility of fulfilment. In such a construction εαν seems to serve for ὁταν, "when". "When" doesn't work here, but Phillips expresses the certainty nicely with, "since we know that he inevitably gives his attention to our prayers."

ὁτι "that" - Here introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what "we know."

ἡμων gen. "us" - [he hears] us. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear."

ὃ εαν + subj. "whatever" - whatever [we ask]. Introducing an indefinite independent relative clause which makes a general assertion or assumption, cf., BDF 380.1. As noted above, the sense is "whatever we ask according to his will."

ὁτι "that" - [we know] that. Dependent statement as above; "we know that we have the requests which we requested from him." That the requests were according to God's will enables us to be sure that "we have the requests." Not all commentators are so limiting on prayer requests and so generalise somewhat; "to know that God hears, to trust that he always acts in a wise and timely fashion, and to commune prayerfully with him in that settled assurance, is in itself the deepest gratification of those who have eternal life in his Son", Yarbrough. We are best to follow Kruse who states that "when believers ask God for anything according to his will, he gives heed to their requests, and they receive what they ask of him."

απ [απο] + "of" - [we have the requests which we have asked] from [him]. Expressing source / origin.


iii] Confidence in forgiveness, v16-17. At this point, John draws a distinction between a sin that leads to death and a sin that does not lead to death. John has assured his readers of their right-standing before God, but what happens when a believer sins? Does a believer, at this point, lose their standing before God? All wrongdoing, injustice, unrighteousness, is sin, and when a believer messes up their life, they can pray about it; ask God's forgiveness. Such a prayer leads to life. John goes on to make the point that there is "a sin that leads to death", a sin that cannot be prayed for, a sin beyond God's forgiveness. Sadly, John doesn't go into details here, although has touched on the issue previously. It seems likely that this sin entails a rejection of the person of Jesus as he is revealed to us in the scriptures. See "Interpretation" above.

εαν + subj. "if" - if [anyones sees]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ......., then he will ask .....".

αυτου gen. pro. "-" - [the brother] of him. The genitive is adjectival, relational; "if anyone sees his brother" = "if anyone sees their brother or sister"

ἁμαρτανοντα ̔ἁμαρτανω] pres. part. "commit [a sin]" - sinning [a sin]. The participle serves as the accusative complement of the direct object "sin", standing in a double accusative construction and asserting a fact about the object, namely, a sin which is being committed.

προς + acc. "[that does not] lead to [death]" - [not] to [death]. Here expressing result; "that results in death." The prepositional construction functions adjectivally, limiting "sin", so "deadly sin", Barclay.

αυτῳ dat. "him / them" - [he will ask and he will give life] to him. Dative of indirect object. The person doing the asking, "he", is the person who prays the prayer, while the person who does the giving, "he", is "God", as NIV, possibly specifically Jesus. Schnackenburg and Brown argue that the one asking and giving is one and the same, in that "he" serves as a conduit of divine life - a somewhat priestly view, but certainly possible.

ζωην [η] "life" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to give." There is some debate over what "life" is bestowed on the sinner. It does seem likely that it is eternal life, the divine gift bestowed on those whose sin is cleansed through Christ. A believer will sin, and as long as it is not a "mortal / deadly sin" (a sin against the Holy Spirit, Mk.3:29, ie., an outright rejection of Christ), the prayer for forgiveness will be answered. Wahlde suggests that the gift of "life" is actually divine strengthening to enable a person to resist sin, but this ignores a believer's constant failure to resist sin.

τοις ἁμαρτανουσιν [ἁμαρτανω] dat. pres. part. "I refer to those whose sin" - to the ones sinning. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to the dative pronoun "him / them."

προς "[does not] lead to" - [not] to [death]. Again the preposition expresses result; "sin that does not result in death." Again the prepositional construction is adjectival and so as above, "deadly sin."

εστιν [ειμι] pres. "there is" - there is [a sin to death]. Construction as above; "there is a deadly / mortal sin."

ἱνα "that" - [not concerning this sin do i say] that [you should ask]. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what John does not say / suggest, namely, that his readers should pray God's forgiveness for a deadly / mortal sin.

περι + gen. "about [that]" - Reference, respect; "with respect to, concerning, about."


πασα αδικια [α] "all wrongdoing" - all, every wrong-doing, unrighteousness, injustice [is sin, and there is sin not to death]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Is this "wrongdoing" the type that is "sin unto death", or "sin not unto death", or both? Commentators and translators divide. Wahlde argues that "every injustice" amounts to the wide variety of sins from which we can be cleansed, 1:9, ie., sins not unto death. Kruse, along with most commentators, argues that John is referring to all sins, both unto death and not unto death. With this approach και is treated as an adversative, "but"; "all wrongdoing is sin, but there is a sin which is not deadly sin", Barclay. Either way, it is likely that John is assuring his readers that although they will fall into sin from time to time, fall into αδικια, "unrighteous actions", that such does not, by necessity, lead to death; "whenever an unrighteous action is performed, sin is present, but this does not imply that there can be no sin except deadly sin", Cassirer. The second clause is best expressed positively: "It is true that every time a believer fails to obey God's laws they commit a sin, but such does not preclude repentance and forgiveness." It is only where there is unbelief / rejection of Christ that there is no forgiveness, and so no point praying for it.


iv] Confidence in a shared understanding of our status before God, namely that we are "children of God" ("in him", united to Christ, the Son of God), v18-20. We who follow Christ are blessed: we are led in the path of righteousness (do not practice sin); we are protected from the wiles of the evil one as he seeks to draw us from Christ; although the world is in the grip of the evil one, we are in the grip of God's fatherly care; we are given an understanding of the truth; and above all, we possess eternal life.

ὁτι " that" - [we know] that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what "we know."

ὁ γεγεννημενος [γενναω] perf. mid./pas. part. "born" - [all] having been born. The participle serves as an adjective, attributive, limiting the substantival adjective "all" = "everyone"; "everyone who has been born of God", ESV.

εκ + gen. "of" - from [god]. Expressing source / origin.

ἁμαρτανει [ἁμαρτανω] pres. "does not continue in [sin]" - does not sin. As already noted, the present tense is read as durative, as NIV; "keep on sinning", ESV, "practice sin." Sin is a constant in the Christian life, as is the desire to not sin. Our human will dictates the direction our life takes, either in service to God (imperfectly so), or in service to satan. A child of God is not in service to satan. It is very unlikely that John has in mind sinless perfectionism, although he may have in mind "sin" in the terms of outright rebellion against God. He is certainly not speaking of mortal sin, as opposed to venal sin, eg., adultery is a mortal sin and no believer would ever commit adultery, but lust is a venal sin and a believer may well fail to control the wondering eye. Jesus regards sin as sin; both the thought and the deed bring judgment. The practice of sinning is probably what John has in mind.

αλλ "-" - but. Rather than adversative / contrastive, here more likely expressing an accessory idea, possibly emphatic, cf., BDF 448.6. In fact, it is nearly causal, explaining why anyone who is born of God does not continue in sin; "we know that no true child of God ever sins, this being so on the ground that he is under the protection of him who has God for his Father, and thus he cannot be touched by the evil one", Cassirer.

ὁ γεννηθεις [γενναω] aor. pas. part. "the One who was born" - the one having been born [from god keeps him]. The participle serves as a substantive. The identity of this "one" is unclear. Schnackenburg, Brown, .. argue that this term usually refers to believers = "children of God", rather than Jesus who is usually referred to as "Son of God." The pronoun αυτον is then read reflectively; "the one born of God keeps himself safe", ie., strives at not practicing sin. The reflective variant ἑαυτον, "himself", is the stronger reading, but is depreciated by Metzger. The adversative αλλ, "but", fits well with this approach; "we know that ......, but rather the one born of God guards himself (ie., strives not to practice sin). Most commentators think that at this point John is referring to Jesus, and it is he who keeps "him / them" (believers) safe, so Smalley, Dodd, Kruse, Lieu, Yarbrough, .... It is argued that the use of the aorist participle here distinguishes it from the perfect participle used when referring to believers.

ουχ ἁπτεται [ἁπτω] pres. "cannot harm" - [and the evil one] does [not] touch [him]. Obviously in the sense of "harm" as NIV. "Since the Son bestows life, even the worst ravages of the evil one must prove short-lived. His malevolent touch will be no more lasting than the blow that sent "the One born of God" from the cross to a tomb that was shortly emptied", Yarbrough. "The evil one must keep his distance", Phillips.


The sense of this verse is made clearer by reversing the two clauses found in the dependent statement; "We know that, although the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One, we belong to God", Barclay.

ὁτι "that" - [we know] that. Introducing a dependent statement expressing what "we know".

εκ + gen. "children of" - [we are] from [god]. The preposition is again probably used to express "born of" = "children of", as NIV, rather than source / origin.

κειται [κειμαι] pres. "is under the control of]" - [and the whole world] lies down [in the wicked, evil]. The verb here is probably being used euphemistically with sexual connotations, of lying [with] / having sex [with]. The preposition εν, "in", expresses association, "with", probably not with "evil / wickedness" as such, but "the evil one"; "the whole world is in bed with Satan."


δε "also" - but/and [we know that]. Transitional, indicating a step in the argument, possibly as NIV, adjunctive, "also".

ὑμιν "us" - [the son of god has come and given understanding] to us. Dative of indirect object. John continues to reinforce the assurance of his readers by reminding them of two facts, first the incarnation, and second the gift of understanding to believers. John goes on the specify the understanding, namely, the knowledge of God the Father, the only true God.

ἱνα "so that" - that. Here introducing a final clause, expressing purpose, or possibly consecutive, expressing result.

τον αληθινον adj. "him who is true" - [we may know] the true one. The adjective serves as a substantive; usually taken as a reference to God, as NIV, "the one who is true" - possibly "the one who is real", but better "true"; "the one true God."

εν + dat. "in" - [and we are] in [the true one]. Local, expressing space, metaphorical, incorporative union; in a relationship with the one true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Variant has "in what is true", with the article το instead of τον.

εν + dat. "by being in [his Son]" - in [the son of him jesus christ]. Local, as above. This prepositional phrase seems to stand in apposition to the previous prepositional phrase. If this is the case, John has identified "the one true God" with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is a rather sophisticated trinitarian move and so the NIV has added an instrumental "by being" to overcome the problem. Culy argues that the trinitarian ambiguity is intended, but it seems more likely that our being in God is realised by our being in Jesus, so Kruse Lieu, ..... John touches a number of times on the mutual indwelling of believers in God and God in believers through Jesus, a reality realised through the Spirit, and it seems likely that he is touching on the same spiritual concept here. So, the person who believes in the name (person) of Jesus Christ, 5:13, is "in" him who is the truth / in a relationship with the true God, and this through Jesus Christ,

οὗτος pro. "He" - this one [is the true god]. The antecedent is either God the Father, or Jesus, depending on whether the prepositional phrase above is taken as appositional. So, if we follow the NIV, "He" is God the Father, the source of eternal life. This seems the most likely interpretation, despite the proximity of the title "Jesus Christ", ie., grammatically the antecedent is the last named person. So, God the Father is the source of eternal life, present in and available through his Son, Jesus Christ. None-the-less, many commentators take the referent to be Jesus, especially given John 1:1, so Kruse, Schnackenburg, .....

zwh aiwnioV "eternal life" - [and] eternal life. Technically, this phrase stands in apposition to "the true God", but such a statement doesn't really make sense, although God is certainly identified with life, as is Jesus, cf., Jn.11:25, 14:6. Barclay has "This is the real God, and this is eternal life", so also Moffatt, ... Dodd suggests "This is the real God, and the knowledge of him is eternal life." "We now belong to the true God who gives eternal life", CEV.


v] Concluding exhortation, v21. John concludes with an exhortation. It seems likely that he is using the word "idols" euphemistically to refer to false beliefs. Expressed positively we might say "stay true to the gospel."

φυλαξατε [φυλασσω] aor. "keep" - [little children] guard, keep [yourselves]. The punctiliar aorist indicates the immediacy of the action; the crisis is now.

απο + gen. "from" - Expressing separation; "away from."

των ειδωλων [ον], "idols" - It seems more than likely that at this point the word is being used metaphorically rather than for "God-substitutes", Dodd. It probably refers to the beliefs / lifestyle of the secessionists / opponents. John's readers worship the true God, whereas the secessionists worship false gods, false beliefs, which John calls "idols".


1 John Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]