Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (July, 1988) 197-210.

          Copyright © 1988 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

                                      An Expositional Study of 1 John

                                                  Part 1 (of 10 parts):

 

 

                   An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4

 

 

 

                                            D. Edmond Hiebert

                                 Professor Emeritus of New Testament

               Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

 

 

            The forceful simplicity of its utterances, the grand theological

truths it portrays, and the unwavering ethical demands of its

teaching have made 1 John a favorite with Christians every-

where. It is as vital and relevant today as it was when it was

first written.

 

                                    Introduction to 1 John

 

            This epistle does not display the regular features of a letter as

seen in the models of contemporary correspondence; yet in the

early listings of the New Testament books it was always classi-

fied as a "letter." Its contents indicate that it arose out of a defi-

nite life situation and was intended to meet the needs of its

recipients. It was a written communication to a group or groups of

readers personally known to the writer. The absence of all that is

merely local supports its description "as encyclical or circular in

nature and pastoral in function."1

 

1 Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary

(Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 70.     

 

                                                       197

 



198                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

The epistle is anonymous, but from earliest times the view has

prevailed in the church that John the Apostle was its author.2 It

portrays an author who was well known to the readers, one who

spoke from direct personal knowledge with an inner sense of au-

thority that felt no need to justify his position of authority among

believers. This view was held almost unanimously until the rise

of modern critical scholarship. The varied arguments against the

traditional view have not proved convincing to theologically

conservative scholars.3 "There is . . . no good reason," Hodges as-

serts, "for denying the traditional belief that the letter is of

apostolic authorship."4 The view of apostolic authorship agrees

with the persistent Christian tradition that the Apostle John

spent the closing years of his long life at Ephesus, where he car-

ried out an extensive evangelistic and pastoral ministry to the re-

gions around.5

            The writer apparently had no direct part in the original

evangelization of the readers addressed (2:7, 24). Yet he was in-

timately acquainted with their spiritual condition and felt a

warm personal affection for them. These churches apparently

had already existed for many years and most members were ad-

vanced in their knowledge of Christian truth (2:7, 20-21, 24, 27;

3:11). They were characterized by a certain homogeneity; they

faced a common spiritual peril because of false teachers who

sought to lead them astray (2:26).

            In support of the traditional view that the letter was written

at Ephesus, Barker notes that this is in accord with the direct

statement of Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3. 1. 1) as well as the fact

that "the earliest-known references to the epistle are by church

leaders from Asia."6 The church fathers did not indicate the date

 

2   For a fuller discussion see D. Edmond Hiebert, An Introduction to the New-Tes-

tament, vol. 3: The Non-Pauline Epistles and Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press,

1977), pp. 182-97.

3   See Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, pp. 7-37, and the literature cited

there.

4   Zane C. Hodges, "1 John," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testa-

ment, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, SP Publi-

cations, 1983), p. 881.

5   On John's Ephesian ministry and the question of "John the elder" see Hiebert,

An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 191-97.

6   Glenn W. Barker, "1 John," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E.

Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 294.

 



          An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                                199

 

of John's arrival at Ephesus, but apparently he labored there for

some time before writing this epistle. There is no mention of the

church being persecuted by the state; if this marks the actual ab-

sence of persecution, the epistle may be dated after the death of

Emperor Domitian in A.D. 96, or more probably before the beginning

of the Domitian persecution, which according to Eusebius (Ec-

clesiastical History 3. 18) began in the latter part of his reign.

This suggests a date around A.D. 97, or more probably around A.D.

80-85. More recently a date between A.D. 60 and 65 has been sug-

gested.7

            The purpose stated in 1 John 5:13, looking back over the whole

epistle, indicates John's desire to ground his readers in the per-

sonal assurance of salvation. Related is his desire for their vic-

tory over sin (2:1), assuring fullness of joy in Christian fellowship

(1:4). He also sought to alert them against increasing susceptibil-

ity toward the world and its views (2:15-17), and to arrest any

proneness to reinterpret their faith in terms of prevailing "modern

thought" by exposing them to the errors of false teachers (2:26).

            The Greco-Roman world of the first century was a veritable

babble of competing voices, and there was a strong desire on the

part of various individuals to syncretize these divergent religious

and philosophical views. It is generally agreed that the heresy

confronted in 1 John was some form or forms of Gnosticism, but it is

unwarranted to identify it with the full-blown Gnosticism of the

second century. Among the numerous converts won to Christianity

in Asia doubtless were former adherents of religious systems

marked by Gnostic tendencies. Some of those converts soon sought

to syncretize their old views with their newly accepted Chris-

tianity. Sharp controversy arose when they sought to propagate

their new interpretations and they withdrew (2:19). But they did

not sever all their contacts with members of the churches (2:26). A

fuller development of the varied Gnostic views may indeed have

been promoted by these heretics after their withdrawal from the

churches. That the incipient elements of Gnosticism were active

in the first century is clear.

            As a speculative philosophy of religion, Gnosticism was

marked by a kaleidoscopic variety of views. Basic was the dual-

istic view that spirit is good and matter is inherently evil, and.

 

7    Hodges, "1 John," p. 882. See John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament

(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), p 307.

 



200                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

that the two are in perpetual antagonism. This assumed dualism

created a gulf between the true God and this material world. The

Gnostics, meaning "knowing ones," held that spiritual excellence

consisted not in a holy life but in their superior knowledge, which

enabled them to rise above the earthbound chains of matter in

their apprehension of the heavenly truth that had been made

known to them. This knowledge, they claimed, had been made

known to them through Christ as the Messenger of the true God.

Thus "the gnostic Christ was not a saviour; he was a revealer. He

came for the express purpose of communicating his secret gnosis."8

This undermined the Christian view of sin and the atonement.

            Acceptance of Gnostic dualism made the Christian doctrine of

the Incarnation unthinkable; two alternative views were ad-

vanced. Docetic Gnosticism9 held that Christ seemed to have a

human body; His supposed humanity was a phantom. Cerinthian

Gnosticism, named after Cerinthus, a late contemporary of John at

Ephesus, held that the man Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, was

preeminent in righteousness and wisdom, that "the Christ" came

on Him at His baptism and empowered His ministry, but left Him

before His crucifixion; it was only a man who died and rose again.

Either view eliminated the Incarnation and nullified Christ's

atoning work.

            Since the Gnostics held that fellowship with God comes

through the esoteric knowledge brought by Christ, they often ex-

pressed their assumed enlightenment in scandalous disregard of

the ethical demands of Christianity. At other times their view

led to asceticism. In opposition, John insisted that true Christian

knowledge, which comes as a result of the anointing of the Holy

One (2:20), involves spiritual enlightenment as well as holiness of

life (1:5-2:5). For true assurance of eternal life (5:13) the Christo-

logical test as well as the ethical test must be applied.

 

                             The Reality of the Incarnation

 

                   What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we

            have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled,

            concerning the Word of life

 

8   Ronald H. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 222.

9  The name is derived from the Greek verb doke<w meaning "to seem." The expres-

sion to> dokei?n denoted something in appearance (only).

 



               An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                                201

 

                and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness

            and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and

            was manifested to us--

               what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you

            also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with

            the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

                And these things we write, so that our joy may be made com-

            plete (1 John 1:1-4).

 

            This weighty and challenging opening paragraph plunges into

the heart of the Christian message, proclaiming that eternal life

has been manifested in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This paragraph is unusually involved and intense, unlike John's

normal style. "It gives the impression that the author was so 'full

of his subject,' so overwhelmed by the truth he sought to express,

that his thoughts became crowded and his expression compli-

cated."10

            John asserted the reality of the apostolic encounter with the

incarnate Word of life (v. 1), parenthetically declared the his-

torical manifestation of eternal life (v. 2), and set forth the per-

sonal issues of the apostolic proclamation (vv. 3-4). The very

structure of this opening paragraph is illustrative of the spiraling

movement of John's thought.

 

THE APOSTOLIC ENCOUNTER WITH THE WORD OF LIFE

 

            The four opening clauses, each beginning with "what" (o{), are

parallel in scope and declare the reality of the Incarnation. All

four are the direct objects of the verb "proclaim" (a]pagge<lomen),

which is not actually expressed until verse 3.11 This use of the

neuter "what" does not mean that John had in view an abstract

message; rather he was thinking about the comprehensive reality

of the historical manifestation of eternal life in the incarnate

Christ. The first clause relates to the Incarnation itself, the re-

maining three declare the apostolic experiences with Christ.

The opening clause, "What was from the beginning" (o{ h#n a]p ]

a]rxh?j), has been variously understood. Ebrard remarked, "These

words, considered in themselves, may say all that it is possible to

say; and yet, when they are isolated, they declare fundamentally

 

10 Harvey J. S. Blaney, "The First Epistle of John," in Beacon Bible Commentary

(Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1969), 10:349.

11 The NIV inserts "this we proclaim" in verse 1 because of the suspended con-

struction created by verse 2.

 



202                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

nothing."12 Clearly their significance must be seen in the light of

what follows.

            Some hold that these words "apparently mean nothing other

than what John 1:1 expresses in the form   ]En a]rx^? h#n o[ lo<goj ('In

the beginning was the word')."13 Plummer accepted this connec-

tion with a recognized difference; in John 1:1 "the point is that the

Word existed before the creation; here that the Word existed be-

fore the Incarnation."14 But in view of the four parallel clauses,

such a time reference is not obvious; the others clearly refer to the

Incarnation. The force of these words depends on the intended

meaning of "was from the beginning" (h#n a]p ] a]rxh?j). The imper-

fect verb "was" denotes continuing existence as limited by "from

the beginning." The "beginning" in view here has been variously

understood. Some, like Plummer15 and Burdick,16 understand the

expression to mean "from all eternity." The expression has also

been taken to mean from the beginning of creation, from the begin-

ning of Christ's ministry, or even from "the earliest stage of the

Christian Church."17 The meaning of "the beginning" must al-

ways be determined by the context.18 In keeping with the follow-

ing clauses, it seems best to understand that "beginning" here

points to the unique events, described in Luke 1–2 that character-

ized the actual Incarnation, which John is proclaiming. "John's

message must seem incredible until we start where he starts—at

Bethlehem."19

            Used without the definite article, "beginning" (a]rxh<) does not

so much point to a specific event, which went largely unnoticed by

 

12    John H. A. Ebrard, Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, trans. W.

B. Pope (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1860), p. 46.

13   Rudolf Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress

Press, 1973), pp. 7-8.

14   Alfred Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, Cambridge Bible for Schools and

Colleges (reprint, Cambridge: University Press, 1938), p. 72.

15   Ibid.

16   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 97.

17   R. R. Williams, The Letters of John and James, Cambridge Bible Commentary,

New English Bible (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), p. 17.

18   "Beginning" (a]rxh<) occurs nine times in 1 John, with varied shades of meaning

(cf. 2:7, 13; 3:8).

19   R. E. O. White, Open Letter to Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerd-

mans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 27.

 



             An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                    203

 

the world, but rather serves to characterize the event as a new

beginning in God's manner of speaking to mankind (Heb. 1:1-2).

This clause starts with the Incarnation, while the following

clauses focus attention on the manifestation of the incarnate

Christ during His ministry. The manifestation of the Christ did

not begin at Jesus' baptism, as Cerinthus taught; the verb "was"

(h#n) marks the continued fact of the Incarnation since the birth of

the Virgin Mary's Babe in Bethlehem. John's thought in this

verse parallels John 1:14, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt

among us, and we beheld His glory."

            The three following neuter clauses depict aspects of the apos-

tolic experiences with the incarnate Christ. "We," the personal

subject of all the following verbs in verse 1, is not to be limited to

John alone as an "editorial" we; rather, John was speaking as the

representative of the apostles, all of whom bore united witness to

the reality of the Incarnation. These four verbs summarize their

experiences with Jesus during the years of His ministry and imply

a growing intimacy with Him.

            "What we have heard" (o{ a]khko<amen) implies a speaker from

whom they received a message; that message came from a

historical Person and includes all the varied statements and ac-

tivities of the Speaker in communicating His message. The words

"have heard" imply that their hearing Him personally has ter-

minated, but His message still continues to ring in John's ears.

            The words "what we have seen with our eyes" (o{ e[wra<kamen

toi?j o]fqalmoi?j h[mw?n) declare the visual encounter of the apostles

with the incarnate Christ. "With our eyes" underlines that what

they observed was no phantom, or inward or spiritual vision.

"The addition with our eyes, like our hands below, emphasises

the idea of direct personal outward experience in a matter mar-

vellous in itself."20 The perfect tense again implies that what

they had seen still lingered before the mind's eye.

            Further evidence for the Incarnation from the sense of sight

and of touch is given in the words "what we beheld and our hands

handled." "What we beheld" is no mere repetition. The verb now

used (e]qeasa<meqa) denotes intelligent beholding, "a careful and

deliberate vision which interprets . . . its object."21 The use of the

 

20   Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), p. 6.

21   G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3d ed.

 



204                             Bibliotheca Sacra I April—June 1988

 

aorist tense now points back to this gazing on Him as a historical

fact, as in John 1:14, "we beheld His glory."

            "And our hands handled" (kai> ai[ xei?rej h[mw?n e]yhla<fhsan)

brings in the experience of deliberate touch as the culminating ev-

idence for the reality of the Incarnation. The aorist tense points to

the historical fact. John spoke not of a mere accidental brushing

against the body of Jesus, but of a purposeful touching of His body

as a verification of its reality. This verb was used by Jesus, after

His resurrection, to challenge the disciples to prove the reality of

His bodily presence (Luke 24:39; cf. John 20:27). But, as Burdick

well notes, "In the context of 1 John 1:1, the apostle is not trying to

prove the reality of the resurrection. His point here is that Jesus

was most surely incarnate in a 'flesh-and-bones' body."22

            Following these four object clauses no governing verb is ex-

pressed. Instead of the governing verb, John continued with a

prepositional phrase standing in apposition to all that has pre-

ceded, "concerning the Word of life" (peri> tou? lo<gou th?j zwh?j).

"Concerning" (peri>) summarily relates all that has preceded as

gathering around "the Word of life," setting forth the central sub-

ject of the epistle. The use of the definite article with both nouns

(lit. "the Word of the life") makes both nouns distinct while com-

bining the two concepts.

            Some interpreters, like Westcott,23 Dodd,24 and Houlden,25

hold that "the Word" refers here to the message conveyed by the

gospel. Thus Westcott holds that it refers to "the whole Gospel,

of which He is the centre and sum, and not to Himself personal-

ly."26 It is suggested that the four preceding neuter clauses support

this nonpersonal meaning. But the use of the neuter pronouns may

well be understood to refer to what John declares concerning the

incarnate Word of life. Advocates of the personal meaning here

point out that the preceding statements are not really impersonal.

Thus Marshall observes, "It is a strange message which is visible,

 

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937), p. 203.

22   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 99.

23   Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, pp. 6-7.

24   C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary

(New York: Harper & Row, 1946), pp. 3-6.

25   J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, Harper's New Testa-

ment Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 50-52.

26   Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, p. 7.

 



          An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                                205

 

and the qualification 'with our eyes' leaves no doubt that literal

seeing is meant."27 And it may be asked, How can a manifestation

of the gospel be handled and personally touched? That "the

Word" here carries a personal implication seems obvious. But in

reality the subject matter and the Person are identical in a unique

fashion. The incarnate Christ is both God's message and Himself

the Messenger. He is the embodiment of divine life and the Re-

vealer of that life to mankind (John 14:6-9).

 

THE HISTORICAL MANIFESTATION OF THE ETERNAL LIFE

 

            Structurally verse 2 forms a parenthesis in John's involved

opening sentence. The conjunctive "and" (kai>) points to another

thought added to what has already been said, affirming the his-

torical appearing and eternal nature of "the life" just mentioned.

The clause "and the life was manifested" (kai> h[ zwh> e]fan-

erw<qh) declares the historical fact, comprehensively setting forth

the appearing of the incarnate Life here on earth. For John this

Life was not an abstract principle but a real Person. The verb "was

manifested," common in John's writings, comprehends the process

whereby this Life became visible and tangible; the passive im-

plies the divine initiative behind the disclosure. Vine notes that

in Scripture this verb denotes more than mere appearance: "to be

manifested is to be revealed in one's true character."28

            Another "and" connects this historical reality with the per-

sonal experience and testimony of the apostles: "and we have seen

and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life." "We have

seen" (e[wra<kamen) again declares that this incarnate Life was the

object of intelligible, abiding sense perception on the part of the

apostles. They perceived His true identity, again viewed as

having an abiding impact. Another "and" further connects their

past experience with a double present activity: "and bear witness

and proclaim to you" (kai> marturou?men kai> a]pagge<llomen u[mi?n).

The two present tense verbs convey two aspects of the same activ-

ity. As Haupt noted, in the first verb "the emphasis lies on the

communication of truth," while in the second "the emphasis lies

 

27   I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary

on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p.

101.

28   W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with Their

Precise Meanings for English Readers (reprint, Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell

Co., 1966), 1:65.

 



206                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

on the communication of truth."29 "We," as the subject of both

verbs, expresses John's deep sense of solidarity with the apostolic

testimony. "More than one man's personal memories lay behind

the apostolic testimony."30

            The object of their authoritative proclamation was "the eter-

nal life" (th>n zwh>n th>n ai]w<nion), literally, "the life, the eternal

[life]." The article with the adjective "eternal" underlines the

quality of this life. While this adjective, like the cognate noun.

ai]w<n, "age," may at times be applied to a long but limited period

of time, its predominant usage in the New Testament denotes

eternal or unending duration. As Hogg and Vine note,

 

            It is used of persons and things which are in their nature endless, as,

            e.g., of God, Rom. 16. 26, of His power, I Tim. 6. 16, and of His glory, I

            Pet. 5. 10; of the Holy Spirit, Heb. 9. 14; of the redemption effected by

            Christ, 9. 12, and of the consequent salvation of men, 5. 9, as well as of

            His future rule, 2 Pet. 1. 11, which is elsewhere declared to be without

            end, Luke 1. 33; of the life received by those who believe in Christ,

            John 3. 16, concerning which He said "they shall never perish," 10. 28,

            and of the resurrection body, 2 Cor. 5. 1.31

 

            This life is characterized not merely by unending continuance

but by the very nature of God. Its eternal, preexistent quality is

explicitly declared in the added identification, "which was with

the Father" (h{tij h#n pro>j to>n pate<ra). The word "which" (h!tij)

is a compound relative pronoun that carries the idea of charac-

teristic quality as well as identity, "which was such as." It marks

the distinctive identity of this Life as a Person who "was with

the Father." The verb "was" denotes past continuing existence,

while the preposition "with" (pro>j) depicts the continuing "face-

to-face" relationship with the Father, distinct from the Father

yet in active fellowship with the Father as equals. In John 1:1

this relationship with the Father is assigned to "the Word," and

here it refers to "the life" as personal and preexistent, that is, the

preincarnate Christ.

            This personal, preexistent Life "was manifested to us" in the

incarnate Jesus. The repeated verb "was manifested" underlines

 

29    Erich Haupt, The First Epistle of St. John: A Contribution to Biblical Theology,

trans. W. B. Pope (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1893), p. 17 (italics his).

30    White, Open Letter to Evangelicals, p. 29.

31    C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (reprint, London:

Pickering & Inglis, 1959), pp. 232-33.

 



         An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                                207

 

this fact as a unique historical reality. The words "to us" return

the thought to the personal encounter of the apostles with this

incarnate Life.

 

THE PERSONAL ISSUES OF THE APOSTOLIC PROCLAMATION

 

            In verses 3-4 John advanced to the crucial significance of the

Incarnation for himself and his readers. He summarized the con-

tent of the proclamation (v. 3a), indicated their aim in making

that proclamation (v. 3b), asserted the true nature of their

fellowship (v. 3c), and stated the intended goal in writing (v. 4).

            In verse 3 John resumed the sentence begun in verse 1, but be-

cause of the parenthesis in verse 2, he repeated two verbs, "what

we have seen and heard," in reverse order and united under one

relative pronoun, "what" (o{). The observed reality of the Incar-

nation and the instructive message heard was then proclaimed.

As John wrote, "we proclaim to you also" (a]pagge<llomen kai> u[mi?n).

This compound verb, which occurs only here in this epistle in

verses 2-3, suggests the thought of passing on to others what has

been given to them. Orr observes, "The habitual sense of the pres-

ent tense may be understood here: we make it our business to pro-

claim."32 The sense of privilege and duty prompted their procla-

mation. The "also" (kai>)33 may mean that others beside John were

proclaiming this message to the readers, or more probably that

the apostle was giving his message to them as well as to others.

            John's proclamation to his readers has a clear intended result

horizontally, "that you also may have fellowship with us" (i!na

kai> u[mei?j koinwni<an e@xhte meq ] h[mw?n). The words "you also" suggest

that though the readers did not have the same personal experi-

ence with the incarnate Christ that the apostles had, yet they

could experience the same spiritual fellowship with them. The

present-tense verb "may have" (e@xhte) indicates that by continu-

ing to adhere to the full truth in Christ they could continue to en-

joy the full fruit of the revelation. John was anxious that his

 

32   R. W. Orr, "The Letters of John," in A New Testament Commentary, ed. G. C.

D. Howley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 609.

33   The kai> is omitted in the Textus Receptus. See Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L.

Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text (Nashville:

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), p. 705. For the strong textual evidence in support

of including Kai see Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamenturn Graece, 26th ed. (Stutt-

gart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, n.d.). The NIV does not represent the kai> in its ren-

dering.

 



208                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

readers would not allow the false teachers to mar or disrupt their

mutual fellowship by perverting the apostolic message.

            The noun "fellowship" (koinwni<an), based on the Greek adjec-

tive meaning "common" (koino<j), denotes the active participation

or sharing in what one has in common with others. The nature of

what is mutually shared molds the nature of the group. Here, as

in Acts 2:42, the intimate bond of fellowship that unites the group

is their common faith in Christ, based on the apostolic message.

By its very nature the new life in Christ creates and stimulates

the desire for such fellowship. The Christian life is a call not for

isolation but for active participation with other believers in this

new life.

            Desiring to preserve and promote this horizontal fellowship,

John declared the vital vertical aspect of Christian fellowship:

and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son

Jesus Christ.” That more needs to be said about Christian fellow-

ship is stressed by John's use of two conjunctions rendered "and in-

deed" (kai> . . . de>). "And" (kai>) again is connective, while the sec-

ond conjunction (de>) indicates that something more but different

needs to be said. The words "and indeed our fellowship" (kai> h[

koinwni<a de> h[ h[mete<ra, lit. "and the fellowship, moreover, the

ours") prepare for this vital Godward aspect of Christian fellow-

ship. The expression h[ h[mete<ra is a strong one; it is not the geni-

tive of the personal pronoun but rather the first person plural of

the possessive pronoun, emphasizing an actual mutual possession.

This plural may be understood as restricted to the apostles, but it

is more natural to hold that John deliberately chose this form to

include his readers with him in this further aspect of their fel-

lowship. No verb is used in the Greek, but English versions gener-

ally supply "is" to denote a positive assertion. For true believers

this Godward fellowship is a fact, though a call to deepen it is

always in order. This vertical fellowship is vital for true fellow-

ship horizontally. Each reflects and influences the other.

            The true grandeur of this vertical fellowship is grounded in

the fact that it is "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus

Christ" (meta> tou? patro>j kai> meta> tou? ui[ou? au]tou?  ]Ihsou? Xristou?).

The repetition of both the preposition and the definite article

emphatically marks the distinction and equality of the Father

and the Son. Both the Father and the Son are one in Godhood.

The preposition meta> marks the thought of association between

the persons involved in the fellowship. Dammers remarks that

the thought is of "communion with God, not absorption in Him; a

 



        An Exposition of 1 John 1:1-4                                209

 

vital distinction to make in Hindu and Buddhist lands today as it

was in John's Hellenistic world."34

            John had learned the designations "the Father" and "His

Son" from the lips of Jesus. The full designation "His Son Jesus

Christ" is solemn and weighty, uniting the two aspects of His

Person. The words "His Son" explicitly declare the divine nature

of the Person historically known as "Jesus Christ." "Jesus," which

means "The Lord is salvation," is the name associated with His

humanity, while "Christ," meaning "the Anointed One," denotes

His messianic identity. "This identification," Burdick notes,

"leaves no room for any kind of Gnostic distinction between the

divine Son and the human Jesus."35

            While clearly marking the distinctness and equality in nature

between the Father and the Son, John draws them together as the

true object of our Godward fellowship. Candlish well observes,

 

            In some views and for some ends it may be quite warrantable, and

            even necessary, to distinguish the fellowship which you have with the

            Father from that which you have with his Son Jesus Christ. As Christ

            is the way, the truth and living way to the Father, so fellowship with

            him as such must evidently be preparatory to fellowship with the Fa-

            ther. But it is not thus that Christ is here represented. He is not put

            before the Father as the way to the Father, fellowship with whom is

            the means, leading to fellowship with the Father as the end. He is

            associated with the Father. Together, in their mutual relation to one

            another and their mutual mind or heart to one another, they consti-

            tute the one object of this fellowship.36

           

            In verse 4 John stated the goal of his letter: "And these things

we write, so that our joy may be made complete." "And" (kai>) in-

troduces another aspect to this glorious picture. While some have

understood "these things" (tau?ta) as referring to the whole epis-

tle, the pronoun, which more naturally refers to the things near at

hand, seems best understood as denoting the things discussed in

verses 1-3. In saying "we write" (gra<fomen h[mei?j) John now nar-

rowed the scope of the apostolic witness and proclamation to the

written communication that was presently engaging his attention

 

34   A. H. Dammers, God Is Light, God Is Love: A Running Commentary on the First

Letter of John (New York: Association Press, 1963), p. 19.

35   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 106.

36   Robert S. Candlish, The First Epistle of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub-

lishing House, n.d.), pp. 7-8.

 



210                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1988

 

and efforts. His emphatic "we" (h[mei?j)37 underlines that he was

doing so in keeping with his apostolic commission.

            The statement of purpose, "so that our joy may be made com-

plete" (i!na h[ xara> h[mw?n ^# peplhrwme<nh), presents a well-known

textual variant. The manuscripts are fairly evenly divided be-

tween the pronouns "our" (h[mw?n) and "your" (u[mw?n). Both make

good sense. "Your joy," the reading of the Textus Receptus,38 gives

the normally expected sense and agrees with John's expressed con-

cern for his readers. If "your" was the original reading it is diffi-

cult to see why the scribes would make the change. Remembering

John 16:24, "that your joy may be made full," they would be prone

to change the unexpected first person plural to the second person.

The reading "our joy," intrinsically more difficult, seems to be the

original reading. This reading may be understood as a delicate

personal touch referring to the writer personally, being "similar to

one the same author made in 3 John 4: 'I have no greater joy than

to hear that my children are walking in the truth."'39

            "Our joy" may also be understood in an inclusive sense to in-

clude both writer and readers. Thus The New English Bible reads,

"the joy of us all."40 This inclusive meaning seems natural in view

of the possessive plural pronoun "our fellowship" in verse 3 above.

It is an instance of pastor and people rejoicing together in the fel-

lowship of the gospel (cf. John 4:36).

            The "joy" in view is "that serene happiness, which is the re-

sult of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious posses-

sion of eternal life . . . and which raises us above pain and sorrow

and remorse."41 The perfect subjunctive "may be made complete"

(h# peplhrwme<nh) sets forth the final goal of the apostolic ministry,

but because of present circumstances that joy may not yet be an

abiding reality.

 

37   "To you" (u[mi?n) is the reading of the majority of the manuscripts; see Hodges

and Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text. But some

textual critics hold that "copyists were more likely to alter gra<fomen h[mei?j to the

expected gra<fomen u[mi?n . . . than vice versa" (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commen-

tary on the Greek New Testament [London: United Bible Societies, 1971], p. 708).

38   See Hodges and Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the Majority

Text.

39   Hodges, "1 John," p. 884.

40   The New English Bible, 2d ed. (Oxford University Press, 1970).

41  Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 77.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204           www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu