Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988) 420-435.

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

 

                                    An Expositional Study of 1 John

                                              Part 3 (of 10 parts):

 

 

                  An Exposition of I John 2:7-17

 

                                            D. Edmond Hiebert

                            Professor Emeritus of New Testament

                Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

 

 

                  Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old

            commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old com-

            mandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am

            writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you,

            because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already

            shining. The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is

            in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the

            light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates

            his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not

            know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

                  I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven

            you for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know

            Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men,

            because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, chil-

            dren, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, be-

            cause you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written

            to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides

            in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world, nor

            the things in the world. If any one loves the world, the love of the

            Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and

            the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father,

            but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts;

            but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:7-17).

           

            According to his stated purpose in 5:13, John wrote this epistle so

that his readers "may know that you have eternal life." The epis-

tle provides a series of tests that promote personal assurance of God's

truth and salvation and enable believers to detect and reject the

false teachings assailing them.

 

                                                            420

 



              An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              421

 

            John began with offering assurance through the test of fellow-

ship grounded in the nature and revelation of God. This fellowship

is grounded in the nature of God as light (1:5), is hindered by the

presence and practice of sin (1:6-10), and is made possible by the re-

demptive work of Christ (2:1-2). In 2:3-17 John set forth a series of

signs assuring that true fellowship with God is being maintained. In

2:3-6 he indicated two closely related signs, the sign of obedience

(vv. 3-5a) and the sign of the conscious imitation of the example of

Christ (vv. 5b-6). Now in 2:7-17 John developed two further signs,

both in different ways revolving around the practice of Christian love.

 

               Assurance of Fellowship from the Sign of Love

 

            In 2:7-11 John developed the thought that assurance that fel-

lowship with God is being maintained can be drawn from the prac-

tice of brother-love. In verses 7-8 he characterized this crucial com-

mand to love one's brother, and then in verses 9-11 he applied this

sign to representative individuals.

 

THE CHARACTERIZATION OF THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE

 

            John began with a term of direct address, "Beloved" ( ]Agaphtoi<),

the first of six occurrences of this affectionate address in this epistle

(2:7; 3:2; 21; 4:1, 7, 11).1 It expresses John's own deep love for his

readers, whom he accepted as in the circle of Christian love. They

were the objects of God's love as well as his own. In writing to them

John was motivated by a deep, persistent love that desires the wel-

fare of the readers.

            An old commandment (v. 7). When John declared, "I am not

writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment," he did

not stop to indicate the contents of this command. Having spoken

about "His commandments" in verses 3-4, the singular now implied

that some specific command is in view. The obligation in verse 6 to

imitate the example of Christ may be in view, but the context sug-

gests that John had in view the commandment to love, elaborated in

verses 9-11. Plummer observes, "Practically it makes little matter

which answer we give, for at bottom these are one and the same.

They are different aspects of walking in the light."2

 

1   The reading "Brethren" in the KJV follows the Textus Receptus, the reading in K, L,

and most minuscules. See Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Tes-

tament according to the Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982);

Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London:

United Bible Societies, 1971), p. 709.

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

Colleges (reprint, Cambridge: University Press, 1938), p. 92.



422                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1988

 

            In stressing this love-commandment John insisted that it was

"not ... a new commandment" (ou]k e]ntolh>n kainh>n), something new in

kind or quality. He denied any implication that he was formulating

some further obligation not inherent in the original apostolic

proclamation. This negation is confirmed by the positive fact that

he was referring to "an old commandment which you have had from

the beginning." It is "old" (palaia<) in the sense of being of long

duration, old as contrasted to recent. It is a commandment "which

you have had" (h{n ei@xete) as a continuing possession through the

years, in fact, "from the beginning" (a]p ] a]rxh?j). The beginning here

cannot refer back to the beginning of the human race, nor yet to the

command's proclamation in the Old Testament Law (Lev. 19:18), but

correctly relates to the church in its earliest stage. Most natural is

the view that John was thinking of the initiation of his readers into

the experience of love when they first heard and accepted the gospel

preached to them.

            John's statement, "the old commandment is the word which you

have heard,"3 explicitly connects this old commandment with their

past Christian experience. "The old commandment" (h[ e]ntolh> h[ pa-

laia<, "the commandment, the old one"), is an emphatic reference to

the commandment under discussion. It is identified with "the word"

(o[ lo<goj), the apostolic message as first proclaimed to them, which

embodied this commandment of love. "You have heard" (h]kou<sate),

in the aorist rather than the perfect, points back to the time when

they first heard the message. Their experience confirms that this

was not something new and extraneous to their Christian faith.

            A new commandment (v. 8). The statement, "On the other hand,

I am writing a new commandment to you" (pa<lin e]ntolh>n kainh>n gra<fw

u[mi?n), recognizes that, looked at in another way, this commandment

of love is indeed new. The opening adverb (pa<lin) does not introduce

a new subject but continues the matter of this love-command looked at

in a new and different way. It is not a recent innovation, yet it is

qualitatively new as experienced in Christ. This double feature as-

sures those who oppose any innovation in connection with their faith

and satisfies those who yearn for something fresh and invigorating.

            The words "which is true in Him and in you" (o! e]stin a]lhqe>j e]n

au]t&? kai> e]n u[mi?n) verify this newness. The neuter pronoun "which"

(o!) cannot relate directly to "commandment" (e]ntolh>n), which is a

feminine noun, but points to the newness involved. This newness "is

true," that is, it exists as a factual reality, "in Him and in you." In

 

3   The recurrence of the words from the beginning" in the KJV follows the Textus Re-

ceptus; older texts omit the words. For the textual evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum

Testarnentum Graece, 26th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, n.d.).



           An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              423

 

the incarnate Christ this newness manifested itself in His life and

teaching, and supremely in His vicarious death. And through the

indwelling Holy Spirit this newness is also true in the experience of

God's people (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). John's use of "in you," rather

than "in us,"4 "commends the readers for conduct that is truly char-

acterized by this new command to love one another.”5 But Plummer

notes that his repeated use of "in" (e]n) implies that "it is true in the

case of Christ in a different sense from that in which it is true in the

case of Christians."6

            The explanatory comment, "because the darkness is passing

away, and the true light is already shining," relates not to Christ

but to the readers, "because there is no sense in which the darkness is

passing away in Christ. Such a departure of darkness can only be

true in redeemed men."7 For John "the darkness" (h[ skoti<a), as al-

ready indicated in 1:5, is not merely the impersonal absence of light;

it is a figurative reference to the realm of moral darkness which

stands in antithesis to all that is "the light" as characteristic of God

and all that relates to Him. These two moral realms stand in active

conflict with each other and cannot be rightly intermingled. As

Smalley notes, this "contrast between good (as light) and evil (as

darkness) is characteristic of John."8

            The present tense verb "is passing away" (para<getai) denotes

the action in progress;9 the impact of the light on the darkness is al-

ready apparent. The darkness is not yet totally gone, nor is its pass-

ing away wholly a matter of the future, to be accomplished at

Christ's return. The process of removing the darkness has already

been initiated by this renewing love, but the process will only be

fully consummated when Christ, the Redeemer, personally returns to

earth to banish the darkness.

            The verb "is passing away" (para<getai) may be either middle or

passive in form. If passive, the meaning is, "is caused to pass away."

It is generally taken as the middle voice, thus stressing the part that

the light plays in the action of the darkness passing away. The

 

4   The reading in us" (e]n h!min) is found in a few manuscripts. For the textual evi-

dence, see ibid.

5   Simon J. Kistemaker, "Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John,"

in New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 261.

6   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 93.

7   Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985),

p. 143.

8   Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51 (Waco, TX:

Word Books, Publisher, 1984), p. 58.

9   The rendering "is past" (KJV) is inaccurate.



424                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October–(December 1988

 

darkness is being expelled by the power of the light.

            The passing of the darkness is explained by the fact that "the

true light is already shining" (to> fw?j to> a]lhqinon>n h@dh fai<nei, liter-

ally, "the light, the true, already is shining"). The construction em-

phasizes the presence of the true or genuine light in contrast to the

spurious "light" the false teachers offered. Any professed "gospel"

that distorts or counterfeits the true apostolic teaching only prolongs

the operation of the darkness.

 

THE APPLICATION OF THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE

 

            In verses 9-11 John presented three hypothetical individuals to

test the presence of this enlightening love. He used articular present

tense participles to delineate the claim or conduct of each.

            The one hating (v. 9). The individual pictured in this verse dis-

plays a conflict between his claim and his conduct. Two present tense

participles under the government of one article portray two distinct

characteristics. "The one who says he is in the light" (o[ le<gwn e]n t&?

fwti> ei@nai) declares that the light is the sphere of his life and be-

ing; he claims to have fellowship with God who is Light (1:5).

"And" (kai>) introduces a further feature: "and hates his brother"

(kai> to>n a]delfo>n au]tou? misw?n, literally, "and the brother of him

hating"). The word order stresses the flagrant contradiction between

his claim and his conduct. "His brother," placed next to his claim to

be in the light, denotes a fellow Christian with whom he should

have a close relationship. In keeping with John's characteristic us-

age (3:14-15; 5:1), the term "brother" denotes not merely a fellow

human being but a Christian brother. This does not mean he is at

liberty to hate a non-Christian; the brother-relationship is the key

to the test being applied. If he fails to show love within the family

circle, he cannot be expected to show love in broader relationships.

The present participle "hating" denotes his characteristic attitude,

not merely a flash of anger or ill will. As the opposite of Christian

love, such hatred cannot be viewed merely as a matter of indiffer-

ence or deliberate disregard of the brother in his need. A feeling of

ill-will or active malice toward the object of hatred is involved. For

John there was no neutral ground between love and hate (cf. 3:14-15).

            The test reveals that this individual "is in the darkness until

now." His conduct nullifies his claim, and he is still in the realm of

"the darkness" (cf. 1:5-6); he has never left it "until now." Though

"the true light is already shining" (2:8), he has never had the       

transforming experience of passing from the darkness into the light.

Kistemaker suggests that John's "until now" "tactfully leaves the



                An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                  425

 

door open so that they may repent and come to the light."10

            The one loving (v. 10). The individual now portrayed, "the one

who loves his brother" (o[ a]gapw?n to>n a]delfo>n au]tou?), is the opposite

of the one in verse 9. There is no neutral ground between the two. No

reference is made to his claim to love. It is assumed he gives testi-

mony to his faith as appropriate, but his practice speaks for itself

without any loud profession. The present participle denotes that his

love is no occasional, sporadic matter, but a continual, habitual prac-

tice. This term for "love" (a]gapa<w) denotes "not so much a manifes-

tation of the emotions as it is a manifestation of the will."11 It is an

intelligent and purposeful love that seeks to promote the highest

good for the one loved, even at the expense of self. Such a love is

only the result of the love of God having been poured out within

believers' hearts through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

            A believer's practice of such love reveals that he "abides in the

light" (e]n t&? fwti> me<nei), that he lives in or is at home in the sphere

of "the light," the sphere associated with the presence and power of

God. The word order underlines the sphere of his abode. His prac-

tice of love reveals that he has joined the brotherhood of "the light."

            "And" (kai>) introduces a further fact concerning him: "and there

is no cause for stumbling in him" (kai> ska<ndalon e]n au]t&? ou]k e@stin).

This negative advantage is understood in various ways. Since the

pronoun au]t&? may be either neuter or masculine, the statement may

be rendered, "and in it there is no cause for stumbling" (RSV),12 that

is, the light in which he lives and moves offers nothing that causes

stumbling. This makes good sense, understanding that "the light,"

unlike "the darkness," has no adverse or destructive impact on the

one living in it. Smalley insists that the neuter "it" "fits the context,

and is supported both by the content of verse 11 and by the parallel

thought expressed in John 11:9 ('a man who walks by day will not

stumble, for he sees by this world's light')."13 But it is generally

accepted that the pronoun is personal, since in these verses John's

thought is centered on the individual rather than on the light, "and

cause of stumbling in him is there none!"14

 

10   Kistemaker, "Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John,” p. 263.

11   J Dwight Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing

House, 1977), p. 43.

12   Revised Standard Version (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Co., 1962).

13   Smalley, 1, 2, 3, John, p. 62. Smalley further remarks, 'John does not teach the

doctrine of sinless perfection, such as might be favored by the translation in him there

is no cause for stumbling."'

14   Joseph Bryant Rotherham, The Emphasized New Testament (Grand Rapids:

Kregel Publications, 1959).



426                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1988

 

            The intended force of the noun here rendered "cause of stumbling"

(ska<ndalonv) is not wholly clear. Since in classical Greek the term

denoted the trigger stick that released a deadly trap, hence a dan-

gerous entrapment, Lenski insisted that "when this word is used

metaphorically it means bringing spiritual death."15 But in view of

its use in Septuagint Greek, the term also came to refer to a stumbling

block. This seems to be the import of the term here—something that

causes stumbling or gives offence.

            Views differ over who is made to stumble. Does he cause others

to stumble, or is the stumbling block in his own way? In favor of the

former is the fact that in the New Testament the term usually de-

notes an offence to others (Matt. 16:23; 18:7; Rom. 14:13; 16:17; 1 Cor.

1:23; Gal. 5:11; Rev. 2:14). Thus Wilder comments, "Such a one is not

the occasion of any offense to others as are the troublemakers who

spread confusion in the church."16 And Vine remarks, "Love is the

best safeguard against the woes pronounced by our Lord upon those

who cause others to stumble."17 Others, however, point to the par-

allel with verse 11 as favoring the second view. Plummer notes there

is nothing in verse 11 that "suggests the notion that the brother-

hater leads others astray: it is his own dark condition that is con-

templated." Plummer also points to "the very close parallel in John

xi. 9, 10," and cites Psalm 119:165; "'Great peace have they which

love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them'; i.e., there is no stum-

bling-block before them."18 The second view seems preferable here,

yet Smalley remarks, "Perhaps, in typically Johannine style, both

meanings are involved in this passage."19

            The one hating (v. 11). The third individual pictured is again

the very opposite of the preceding. While parallel to verse 9, this

verse now emphasizes the blinding impact of hate.

            "The one who hates his brother" resumes the thought in verse 9,

but now reference to his spiritual pretensions is dropped and the re-

sults of hatred in his life are stressed. The first two statements, "is

in the darkness and walks in the darkness" (e]n t^? skoti<% e]sti>n kai> e]n

t^? skoti<% peripatei?), with their present tenses declare that "the

 

15   R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude

(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962), p. 415.

16   Amos N. Wilder and Paul W. Hoon, "The First, Second, and Third Epistles of

John," in The Interpreter's Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick, 12 vols. (New York:

Abingdon Press, 1957), 12:234.

17   W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 3 vols. (Westwood,

NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1940), 3:129.

18    Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, pp. 95-96.

19   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 62.



            An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              427

 

darkness" remains his sphere of existence and daily round of activi-

ties. His character and conduct are characterized by darkness.

            Further, such a life means that he "does not know where he is

going" (ou]k oi#den pou? u[pa<gei), has no true perception concerning the

direction and destiny of his life. The verb "is going" (u[pa<gei, "to go

or lead under") implies that he is unaware of what he is moving to-

ward and will be controlled by. "Because the darkness has blinded

his eyes" simply records the blinding impact of hatred in the human

heart. "So hate destroys any windows for light from God."20 Those

who employ the tactics of hatred inevitably end up under the domi-

nation of darkness. John's statement is metaphorical, but it is based

on observed physical realities. Fish in Echo River in Mammoth

Cave in Kentucky, living in perpetual darkness, have eye sockets but

their eyes are undeveloped. The darkness has effectively blinded

them. The verb rendered "has blinded" (e]tu<flwsen) is an effective

aorist; it simply records the result without calling attention to the

time duration involved. Persistence in hatred and sin inevitably

leads to moral and spiritual blindness.

 

              Assurance of Fellowship from the Sign of Separation

 

            Three tests (2:3-11) have been presented whereby the readers

may be assured of having true fellowship with God. Verses 12-14

now seem to be a disruption of that theme as John directly addresses

his readers in two triads. In two sets of carefully structured state-

ments he expresses his confidence in his readers that they are gen-

uine believers who possess a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But in

thus emphatically assuring his readers, he shows "that what is true

of the orthodox Christian was not true of the false claimants around

John's church."21 John's expression of personal assurance concerning his

readers in verses 12-14 provides the basis for his appeal for sepa-

ration from the world as a further ground for assurance (vv. 15-17).

 

THE ASSURANCE CONCERNING THE READERS

            John expressed his assurance concerning his readers in two sets of

triads, each marked by three designations of those addressed. Each

expression of affirmation consists of three elements: (1) the assertion

"I write" (or "wrote") "to you," (2) a noun of direct address, and (3) an

affirmation introduced by "because" (o!ti). Careful structure is obvious.

The first triad (vv. 12-13b). The three designations for those be-

 

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

Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 12:317.

21   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 67.



428                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October–(December 1988

 

ing addressed have evoked much discussion. That mere physical age

distinctions are not intended seems clear, as is evident from the fact

that John used "little children" (tekni<a) elsewhere to include all his

readers (2:1, 28; 3:18; 5:21). The words "little children" convey the

author's expression of endearment but also suggest "their need of in-

struction and their state of dependence upon God and upon teachers

such as himself."22

            Views differ as to how many groups are in view. Some suggest

three distinct groups as representing "three stages of spiritual

growth."23 But this is questionable in view of the inclusive usage of

"little children" as well as the unusual order, "little children,"

"fathers," "young men." Those who hold to three groups tend to re-

verse the order in their discussions. A second view is that John first

addressed all his readers and then subdivided them into "fathers"

and "young men." Houlden suggested that these two terrns were for-

mal designations of church officials, "the elders" and "the dea-

cons."24 More probable is the view that the readers are now divided

"by the length of their Christian experience."25 A third view holds

that all the readers are included each time, the designation being

true of the experience ascribed to them.26 It is difficult to decide

between the last two views. This author inclines to the second view,

yet he recognizes the force of Plummer's remarks.

            There is, however, something to be said for the view that all S. John's

            readers are addressed in all three cases, the Christian life of all having

            analogies with youth, manhood, and age; with the innocence of child-

            hood, the strength of prime, and the experience of full maturity.27

 

            John addressed his readers as "little children, because your sins

are forgiven you for His name's sake" (v. 12). The diminutive "little

children" (tekni<a), like the cognate verb (ti<ktw, "to be born"), sug-

gests the closeness of the birth relationship. As those who have

been born of God, the stated reason for writing, "because your sins are

 

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

the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 138.

23   Quinton J. Everest, Messages from 1 John (South Bend, IN: Your Worship Hour,

1982), p. 55.

24   J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, Harper's New Testament

Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 70-71.

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

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), p. 57.

26   So Marshall, The Epistles of John, p. 138; James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of

John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), pp. 72-73; Zane C. Hodges, "1

John," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, 2

vols. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, SP Publications 1983, 1985), 2:890.

27   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 98.



               An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              429

 

forgiven you" (o!ti a]fe<wntai j[mi?n ai[ a[marti<ai), is true of every child

of God. The perfect tense (a]fe<wntai) denotes the past experience of

sins forgiven, leading to the present state of being forgiven. Without

this assurance there can be no effective Christian life and service.

            "For His name's sake" (dia> to> o@noma au]tou?) emphasizes the true

basis for the assurance of sins forgiven. "His name," as White ob-

serves, "is but shorthand for the whole character and work of Christ,

the incarnate Son."28 "God forgives sin not because of any merit in

the sinner, but because of the infinite merit of the Saviour."29 His

dear children are to beware of being led astray from God's provision

by the new theories of the false teachers.

            The words "I am writing to you, fathers" (v. 13a) address those

among John's readers who are older in the faith and are charac-

terized by spiritual maturity. "Fathers" (pate<rej) naturally im-

plies some authority and leadership as characteristic of those ma-

ture in their faith. Van Gorder suggests that the term implies that

they were "believers in Christ who themselves had grown in grace

and had begotten children in the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15)."30 John felt

assured about them "because you know Him who has been from the

beginning" (o!ti e]gnw<kate to>n a]p ] a]rxh?j). "Know" (e]gnw<kate, perfect

tense) suggests a past knowledge that remains and grows, a knowl-

edge centering in a Person characterized by His permanency, "Him

who has been from the beginning." Taken alone, this designation

might denote God the Father as the immutable "I am."31 But Plum-

mer notes that John "never speaks of the First Person of the Godhead

under any designation but 'God' or 'the Father."'32 The reference to

"the Father" in verse 13c favors the view that John here means Jesus

Christ, "who has been from the beginning." White notes that the

designation "would have no particular significance here as a title for

God, whereas the incarnation of the Logos, who was from the begin-

ning, is the crux of the faith John writes to defend."33 The expres-

 

28    R. E. O. White, Open Letter to Evangelicals: A Devotional and Homiletic Com-

mentary on the First Epistle of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans' Publishing Co.,

1964), p. 60.

29   George Williams, The Student's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Analytical,

Synoptical, and Synthetical (London: Oliphants, 1949), p. 1012.

30   Paul R. Van Corder, In the Family, Lessons from First John (Grand Rapids: Radio

Bible Class, 1978), p. 74.

31   Sc John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, The Tyndale New Testament Commen-

tary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 97; F. F. Bruce, The

Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1970), p. 58.

32   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 99.

33   White, Open Letter to Evangelicals, p. 59.



430                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1988

 

sion echoes 1:1 and 2:7; it could refer to eternity past, the Incarnation

as the beginning of God's redemptive work in His Son (cf. 1:1), or

possibly to the beginning of the Christian church (2:7). The second

view seems most probable here. In writing to the "fathers" John

drew assurance from his realization that their years of pondering

the gospel message and their experiences with the incarnate Christ

had stabilized them so that they would not be mislead by the novel

Christologies of the Gnostics.

            The "young men" (neani<skoi) next addressed (v. 13b), character-

ized as younger in faith as well as age, are commended "because you

have overcome the evil one" (o!ti nenikh<kate to>n ponhro<n). John rec-

ognized that they had overcome, not temptation, but the Tempter,

"the evil one." This is one of the biblical terms for the devil and de-

picts his nature as vicious, injurious, and destructive. It describes

him as utterly bad. While admittedly the devil uses men as his

agents in his conflict with believers, the devil, aided by his cohorts,

is their real and persistent enemy (cf. Eph. 6:10-12). The perfect

tense "have overcore" (nenikh<kate) does not mean that the battle is

already over but rather, having encountered the enemy, they now

stand as assured of victory. As Alford aptly remarks, "Whatever

conflict remains for them afterwards, is with a baffled and con-

quered enemy."34 Knowing that in Christ the devil is a defeated foe

(John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), they have in faith resisted the devil and

put him to flight (1 Pet. 5:9; James 4:7). Such a position of victory

must be maintained daily with a firm faith in Christ and resolute

striving against the devil and his temptations.

            The second triad (vv. 13c-14). While echoing the former triad,

this triad is marked by two changes. Instead of the present tense, "I

write" (gra<fw), each assertion now uses the aorist tense (e@graya).35

The reason for the change is not obvious and various suggestions have

been advanced. Candlish conjectured that as an old man John sud-

denly realized that he might be gone when his readers received the

letter, so he changed to the aorist to urge them to receive this letter

as his full and final testimony to them.36 Another suggestion is that

the present tense refers to this letter, while the aorist looks back to

 

34   Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago: Moody Press,

reprint, n.d.), p. 1707.

35   Following the Textus Receptus, the KJV in v. 13c reads "1 write," but has "I have

written" in v. 14.  For the textual evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum

Graece, 26th ed.  Perhaps the change was made to bring together the sequence fathers,

young men, little children in v. 13.

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

ing House, reprint of 1869 ed.), pp. 129-30.



                An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              431

 

the Gospel of John.37 Another view is that John was interrupted af-

ter writing the first triad, and on resuming his writing he picked up

the train of thought with the use of the aorist.38 Most plausible is

the explanation by Burdick:

            The reason for repeating the triplet was to place particular emphasis on

            the author's confidence in the genuineness of his readers' salvation ex-

            perience. And in order to avoid the monotony of mere repetition, John

            used the epistolary aorist in the second triplet instead of the present

            tense.39

            As a common Greek idiom, the epistolary aorist in thought places

the writer at the time the readers receive his letter.

Another change is the use of "children" (paidi<a) instead of the

former "little children" (tekni<a). The diminutive "children" is also

a term of endearment. As a term of address it occurs elsewhere in the

New Testament only in 1 John 2:18 and John 21:5. With this term

John again addressed all his readers. The change was probably made

to avoid monotony, yet some difference in the meaning of the two

terms may be present. In the words of Barker, "If a difference in em-

phasis is intended, the use of tekni<a emphasizes more the relation-

ship, the dependence or weakness of the infant, while paidi<a stres-

ses the immaturity (subordination) of the child, the need to be under

instruction or direction."40 John thus suggested that the readers were

his spiritual children who were under his acknowledged leadership.

            The assurance expressed in 1 John 2:12 John now rephrased, "be-

cause you know the Father" (o!ti e]gnw<kate to>n pate<ra), for as Lenski

notes, "Only those know the Father whose sins have been remitted

for the sake of Christ's name."41 The perfect tense verb (e]gnw<kate)

indicates an abiding, intimate knowledge of "the Father." The

world has professed to know God under various guises,42 but the

readers know God personally as members of His family, living under

His love and care. They came to know Him through their acceptance

of Jesus Christ as the one who has revealed the Father (Luke 10:22).

This knowledge of the Father is effected through the work of the

 

37   Alexander Ross, The Epistles of James and John, The New International Commen-

tary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954),

pp. 162-63.

38   Robert Law, The Tests of Life (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909), p. 309.

39   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 175.

40   Barker, "1 John," p. 320

41   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 421.

42   See White, Open Letter to Evangelicals, p. 58, for a suggestive list of designations

for God.



432                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October--December 1988

 

indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6).

            In again addressing the "fathers," John left his statement of as-

surance unchanged (1 John 2:14a). His assurance concerning their ma-

ture knowledge only needed reemphasis. As mature believers they

could not afford to relax their spiritual growth.

            His assurance concerning the "young men" is now enlarged on in a

triple statement (v. 14b). "You are strong" (i]sxuroi< e]ste, literally,

"strong you are") denotes the strength and vigor characteristic of

youth. The adjective denotes power or ability and places "stress on

the actual power that one possesses rather than on the mere princi-

ple of power."43 As young believers, not necessarily young in age,

they are marked by "the vitality, exuberance, and adventurousness

of youth exhibited in their Christian living."44 "And" (kai>) connects

their strength with the fact that "the Word of God abides in you."

The source of their strength is not innate but has been imparted to

them. "The Word of God" refers not to Christ but rather to the mes-

sage of God as brought by Him and now embodied in the inspired

Scriptures. Strength is imparted as God's Word "abides," is at home,

in the mind and will and finds expression in daily conduct. King

justly remarks, "All big Christians have been Bible Christians; all

who have been greatly blessed to others have been themselves

steeped in it."45

            "And" (kai>) again connects the following with what has pre-

ceded: "and you have overcome the evil one" (kai> nenikh<kate to>n

ponhro<n). The Word indwelling them was the true source of their

abiding victory over the devil. Satan cannot resist the power of

God's Word, as illustrated in the temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11;

Luke 4:1-13).

 

THE APPEAL FOR SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD

            Abruptly John now issued his appeal not to love the world (vv.

15-17). This is the negative demand on Christian love. John had in-

sisted (vv. 9-11) that the Christian life must be characterized by

love of the brethren; now he insisted on the complementary duty. As

an appeal to the will, John's command implies that love can be mis-

directed. He first declared the uncompromising duty (v. 15a) and

then indicated the reasons they must not love the world (vv. 15b-17).

The statement of the command (v. 15a). The prohibition is given

a double statement: "Do not love the world, nor the things in the

 

43   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 176.

44   Guy H. King, The Fellowship: An Expositional Study of 1 John (reprint, Fort

Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1976), p. 44.

45   Ibid., p. 45.



               An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              433

 

world" (mh> a]gapa?te to>n ko<smon, "not be loving the world"). The form

marks a standing prohibition and may imply that the readers were

prone to do so but must stop this evil practice. But the prohibition

may simply prohibit a practice without implying that it is actually

being done. It is a danger against which they must constantly be on

guard.

            "The world" (ko<smoj), now used six times in three verses, is a fa-

vorite term with John, having a variety of meanings. The term basi-

cally denotes order, arrangement (the opposite of chaos), and hence

an orderly system. It could be used to denote the earth (John 21:25),

or the world of mankind (John 3:16) in its various organizations and

systems. But because of the fallen nature of the human race, the term

predominantly has an ethical import, the human race in its alien-

ation from and opposition to God. John here had in view the world of

humanity in its rebellion against God and dominated by the evil one

(1 John 5:19). John was calling not for monastic separation from the

world but for an inner attitude of separation from the sinful world

and its practices. As those loyal to God, his readers are to be on

guard against a kindly feeling toward the world's evil, and are not

to establish intimate relations of loyalty with it.

            The added words, "nor the things in the world" (mhde> ta> e]n t&?

ko<sm&), particularize, prohibiting such a love relationship to any

particular aspect or feature of this evil world. These "things" are

not necessarily material objects, which in themselves are nonmoral

and can quite innocently be desired and possessed, but they may be-

come evil if they cause an attitude of alienation from God. From

verse 16 it is clear that John had in view those elements or attitudes

characterizing the world in its alienation from God.

            The reasons for the command (vv. 15b-17). John pointed out that

love for God and love for the world are by their very nature antago-

nistic to each other and cannot coexist in the human heart (v. 15b).

Here is another of those opposites John often used (1:5, 6; 2:4).

            "If any one loves the world" (e]a<n tij a]gap%? to>n ko<smon) presents

a hypothetical case for the readers to consider. The individual is

anyone who persistently makes the world the object of his love. The

inevitable result is, "the love of the Father is not in him." The ex-

pression, "the love of the Father" (h[ a]ga<ph tou? patro>j), used only here

in the New Testament, is capable of three meanings. "It may refer to

love that comes from the Father (ablative of source), it may refer to

the Father's love for the person involved (subjective genitive), or it

may speak of the person's love for the Father (objective genitive)."46

As the opposite of love for the world, the last meaning seems clearly

 

46   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 178.



434                 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1988

 

intended. The tragic fact is that love for God "is not in him," is not a

motivating power in his heart and life. The opening "For" (o!ti) of

verse 16 introduces a parenthetical verification of this fact.

            "The lust of the flesh" (h[ e]piqumi<a th?j sarko>j) denotes the de-

sire or craving that has its origin in the flesh. The craving denoted

by the term e]piqumi<a may in itself be either good or bad. It is thrice

used in the New Testament with a good meaning (Luke 22:15; Phil.

1:23; 1 Thess. 2:17), but predominantly it denotes an evil desire,

properly rendered "lust." "Lust" here is collective, denoting the

varied cravings of fallen human nature pursued in the interest of self

in self-sufficient independence of God. The cravings God has placed

in the human body in themselves are not sinful but readily become

sinful when used for illegitimate ends.

            Another aspect of "all that is in the world" (v. 16) John identi-

fied as "the lust of the eyes" (h[ e]piqumi<a tw?n o]fqalmw?n), the cravings

and lusts stimulated by what is seen. The preceding expression de-

notes those lusts that are stimulated by one's inner nature; now the

reference is to those desires that are aroused by what enters through

the eye-gate. The expression, "the lust of the eyes," occurring only

here in the New Testament, may refer to the desire to acquire the

things seen. If so, then the expression "points to man's covetous and

acquisitive nature."47 Or as Plummer notes, the lust may be "the de-

sire of seeing unlawful sights for the sake of the sinful pleasure `to be

derived from the sight; idle and prurient curiosity."48 The expres-

sion may well include both aspects. Some things an individual ob-

serves he may crave to acquire, others he may desire to feast his eyes

on without personally possessing. Under either view, "In a day of

billboard advertising, movie and television screens, and eye-catch-

ing magazine spreads, this aspect of the world is predominant."49

            A further aspect of "all that is in the world" is "the boastful

pride of life" (h[ a]lazonei<a tou? bi<ou). While the two preceding as-

pects are inward, relating to what one wants, this is outward, relat-

ing to what one has or professes to have. The term "the boastful

pride," used only here and in James 4:16 in the New Testament, de-

notes ostentatious pride in things possessed. The noun is closely re-

lated to the word a]lazw<n, a "braggart," one who extolled his own

virtues or possessions. The genitive "of life" (tou? bi<ou) is the same

word rendered "the world's goods" in 3:17; it emphasizes the tempo-

ral and material aspects of human existence. Here the evil is ex-

 

47   Hodges, "1 John," p. 891.

48   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 103.

49   Leo C. Cox, 1, 11, 111 John, in The Wesleyan Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm.

B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), 6:334.



          An Exposition of 1 John 2:7-17                              435

 

pressed in an ostentatious display of means or achievements that

imply the individual's cleverness and independence from God.

Plummer notes that the first two elements may be the vices of a

solitary; the third requires society."50

            These three aspects are indicative of "all [pan, "everything"]

that is in the world," and as such "not from the Father, but . . . from

the world," negatively and positively stressing the source. How ap-

propriate for John to warn against loving such things.

            The opening "and" of verse 17 adds another reason for not loving

the world. "The world is passing away" declares its transitory na-

ture, and this is true likewise of "its lusts" which can be so alluring.

The present tense "is passing away" (para<getai) points out the

ongoing process of disintegration. By their very nature the world's

lusts are self-destructive. "The ways of sin are strewn with the seeds

of their own destruction."51 This process is now operative in the

lives of those loving the world; but one day this world system of evil

will be swept off the scene in cataclysmic judgment at Christ's return.

            "But" (de>) points to a contrasting reality: "the one who does the

will of God abides forever." This assurance is for "the one who does

the will of God" (o[ poiw?n to> qe<lhma tou? qeou?), who sets himself to be

obedient to God's will rather than pursuing the fleeting lusts of the

world. Houlden remarks, "The 'mystical' supernatural gift of God's

love had certainly to be received (v. 15)—but the test of that was no

mere spiritual 'feeling'; it was doing God's will, the keeping of his

commands, in particular the command to love the brothers (v. 2f)."52

            John, like James, insisted that saving faith must be functional in

daily life. It is this resolute obedience, imperfect though it may be,

that brings the assurance of God's approval, assurance that the be-

liever "abides forever" (me<nei ei]j to>n ai]w?na), literally, "abides into

the age," the eternal age of God's kingdom. Born again he is already

in the spiritual kingdom, and no essential change in his spiritual life

is ahead for him. There may well be a break in the outer continuity

of his life between death and resurrection, but his abiding spiritual

union with the eternal Christ will remain unchanged.

 

50   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 104.

51   Harvey J. S. Blaney, I, II, III John, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO:

Beacon Hill Press, 1967), 10:370.

52   Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, p. 75.

 

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