Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988) 329-342.

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




                                      An Expositional Study of 1 John

                                                    Part 2 (of 10 parts):



                       An Exposition of I John 1:5—2:6



                                               D. Edmond Hiebert

                                  Professor Emeritus of New Testament

                Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California



                 And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to

            you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say

            that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie

            and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is

            in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus

            His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are

            deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins,

            He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us

            from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make

            Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

                 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not

            sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus

            Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins;

            and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. And by this

            we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His command-

            ments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not

            keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but

            whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been per-

            fected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides

            in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John



            Following the weighty and difficult opening paragraph (1:1-4),

John launched into his discussion. It is exceedingly difficult to pre-

sent a logical analysis of the body of the epistle (1:5-5:12). At-

tempts to analyze its contents are like attempts to analyze the face

of the sky: "There is contrast, and yet there is harmony; variety and

yet order; fixedness, and yet ceaseless change; a monotony which

sooths without wearying us, because the frequent repetitions come to



330                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1988


us as things that are both new and old."1

            Attempts to produce a logical analysis of its contents have

yielded widely varying results.2 John's method was not that of syl-

logistic logic but of categorical affirmation. His thought moved in

cycles rather than straight lines. It seems best to seek to trace the

flow and aim of John's thought in the light of his purpose stated in

5:13: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of

the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal

life."3 John presented tests of a vital Christianity, which would

promote the assurance of personal salvation in the lives of his read-

ers and would enable them to detect and reject false teachers.

            John began by discussing the test of fellowship with God (1:5-

2:17). Grounded in the nature of God as light (1:5), this test "is

largely directed against the Gnostic doctrine that to the man of en-

lightenment all conduct is morally indifferent."4 In 1:6-10 he showed

how sin hinders fellowship and he provided the corrective; in 2:1-2

he set forth the divine provision for maintaining fellowship, and in

2:3-17 he presented signs of fellowship maintained.


                        The Basis for Christian Fellowship


            John moved into a discussion of the first test without a break:

"And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to

you" (v. 5). "And" (kai>),5 as well as his reference to the apostolic

message, connects this test with the reality of the Incarnation (1:1-3)

as the ground for true fellowship. The words "this is the message"

(e@stin au!th h[ a]ggeli<a, lit. "and the message is this") point to its

abiding reality and prepare for the coming statement of its sum and

substance. Have heard from Him" (a]khko<amen a]p ] au]tou?) again de-

clares the abiding impact of the message heard from the incarnate

Son of God (1:3). Unlike the speculative claims of the Gnostics, this

is the true and abiding message received directly from God Himself.


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

Colleges (reprint, Cambridge: University Press, 1938), pp. 42-43.

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

on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 12:22-

27, for a number of these outlines.

3   So Raymond E. Gingrich, An Outline and Analysis of the First Epistle of John

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1943). See this writer's outline in An In-

troduction to the New Testament, vol. 3: The Non-Pauline Epistles and Revelation

(Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), pp. 208-10.

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

5    This is omitted in the NEB, NIV, and RSV.


             An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          331


            "And announce to you" again underlines the apostolic commission

to make that message known to others. The verb "announce" (a]nag-

ge<llomen), or "declare" (NIV), differs slightly from the verb rendered

"proclaim" in verses 2-3. While no vital distinction between these

two compound forms is involved, the former term (a]pagge<llomen)

conveys the thought of proclaiming and making known a message,

the term here (a]nagge<llomen) suggests proclaiming again, or dif-

fusing knowledge of the message.

            The content of this message is stated both positively and nega-

tively: "that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."

The statement "God is light" is one of three assertions concerning the

nature of God from the pen of John: "God is spirit" (John 4:24); "God

is light" (1 John 1:5); "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). While other bib-

lical writers tell about the attributes and activities of God, John

alone in these statements tells what He is.

            "God is light" (o[ qeo>j fw?j e]stin) is a metaphorical statement of

His very nature. "God," with the definite article, is the subject;

"light," without the article, is the predicate nominative; the two

terms cannot be interchanged. The predicate noun is qualitative, de-

scribing God as possessing the qualities of light. Obviously it is not

to be taken in a literal sense. Whatever other qualities this meta-

phorical designation may include, it clearly involves the intel-

lectual and moral—enlightenment and holiness. Just as light reveals

and purifies, so by His very nature God illuminates and purifies

those who come to Him. His nature determines the conditions for

fellowship with Him.

            Characteristically the apostle added a negative to his positive

assertion: "and in Him there is no darkness at all" (kai> skoti<a e]n

au]t&? ou]k e@stin ou]demi<a, lit. "and darkness in Him not is, not one bit").

The double negative stresses the total absence of any darkness in

Him. For John "darkness" is not merely the absence of light; it has a

moral quality, standing in direct antithesis to all that characterizes

God as "light." For pagans in John's day, familiar with the Greek

and Roman mythologies, that was a startling assertion. As Findlay


            They had gods that could cheat and lie, gods licentious and unchaste,

            gods spiteful and malignant towards men, quarrelsome and abusive

            toward each other. They had been accustomed to think of the God-

            head as a mixed nature, like their own, only on a larger scale—good

            and evil, kind and cruel, pure and wanton, made of darkness and light.6


            6 George G. Findlay, Fellowship in the Life Eternal (New York: Hodder and

Stoughton, n.d.), p. 96.


332                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1988


            Whenever men create their own gods, they create them in their

own image. The Gnostics in practice tried to mix the two realms of

light and darkness or held that since they had been enlightened the

darkness did not impinge on them. For John "light" and "darkness"

represent two separate and distinct moral realms in opposition to

each other. God and His kingdom constitute the first realm; Satan

and his followers the second.


                              The Hindrances to Fellowship


            John next dealt with three hindrances to fellowship in view of

God's nature (1:6-10). Cures are pointed out for the first two, but none

is stated for the third hindrance.




            The claim (1:6a). "If we say" (e]a>n ei@pwmen) introduces a hypo-

thetical claim;7 it does not assert that the claim has actually been

advanced, but it does leave open the possibility. The claims indi-

cated in verses 6, 8, and 10 seem clearly to represent views advanced

by the false teachers. John's "we" is inclusive, embracing himself

and his readers, as well as the false teachers.

            The words "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and

yet walk in the darkness" present the religious profession, marked

by a clear contradiction between the claim and the conduct main-

tained. "That we have fellowship with Him" (o!ti koinwni<an e@xomen

met ] au]tou?) indicates a claim that we have continuing fellowship

with God who is light (1:5). It is a claim to be "united with God by a

living bond of common sympathy, interest, purpose, and love."8 Over

against this high claim stands a contradictory course of conduct, "and

yet walk in the darkness" (kai> e]n t&? sko<tei peripatw?men, lit. "and in

the darkness may be walking"). "The darkness," placed emphati-

cally forward, marks the contrasted sphere of conduct. "Walk" is a

common figure of speech to denote moral conduct. The compound verb

denotes the whole round of daily activities, including thought and

deed. The tense denotes the continued action.

            The condemnation (1:6b). John unhesitatingly pronounced a

twofold condemnation on this contradiction: "we lie and do not prac-

tice the truth." His positive assessment, "we lie" (yeudo<meqa), sug-


7   "The Third Class: Undetermined, but with Prospect of Determination. This

condition states the condition as a matter of doubt, but with some expectation of real-

ization" (A. T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek

Testament [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935], p. 353).

8   J. M. Gibbon, Eternal Life: Notes of Expository Sermons on the Epistles of S. John

(London: Richard D. Dickinson. 1890). n. 11.

          An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          333


gests they were claiming a known falsehood. It is not an innocent

mistake but a conscious lie. Whenever there is a clear conflict be-

tween an individual's verbal claim and his habitual conduct, it is

always his conduct that shows what he is.

            The negative assertion "we . . . do not practice the truth," means

they fail to embody God's revealed truth in their daily conduct and

character. As Stott observes, "Religion without morality is an illu-


            The corrective (1:7). "But if we walk in the light as He Himself

is in the light" reveals that the corrective lies in altered conduct, in

a daily walk consistent with God's character as "the light." The

standard and pattern of the walk is not left to believers to determine

but is determined by His nature, "as He Himself is in the light." The

expression marks the contrast between God who is "in the light'' as

the natural sphere of His being, and those seeking fellowship with

Him who must persistently endeavor to walk "in the light." God is

eternal and abiding; believers are temporal, moving through time

and space.

            The result of such a walk is twofold. Horizontally, "we have

fellowship with one another." While some understand the phrase

"with one another" (met ] a]llh<lwn) to denote the resultant fellowship

between God and man,10 it is more natural to understand the recipro-

cal pronoun as indicating fellow believers. The pronoun is used seven

times in I and 2 John and in each of the other occurrences it clearly

expresses a human relationship.11  It is the result of believers' mu-

tual walk in the light, and is "a gauge and a sign of the divine fel-

lowship."12 He who consistently has trouble maintaining fellow-

ship with others walking in the light should examine his own claim

of fellowship with God.

            A Christian's walk in the light also produces a vertical result:

"and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." One's walk

in the light does not produce the cleansing; it only makes him per-

sistently conscious of his continual need for cleansing. The cleansing


9   J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 74.

10   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), 2:885; J. Dwight Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Publishing House, 1977), p. 24.

11   I John l:7;3:11,23;4:7,11,12; 2 John 5.

12   Bonsirven, quoted in Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-

Depth Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 123.


334                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1988


agent is "the blood of Jesus13 His Son." This double identification of

the One whose blood cleanses indicates His unique nature. "Jesus"

points to His life and death here on earth as a real man, while "His

Son" underlines the fact of His deity as the incarnate Son of God.

This assertion of His dual nature repudiates the Gnostic denials of

the reality of the Incarnation.

            "Cleanses us from all sin" declares the impact of His blood as

continuous and comprehensive. The present tense verb "cleanses"

(kaqari<zei, "keeps on cleansing") presents its competence to do what

nothing else can, while the phrase "from all sin" (a]po> pa<shj

a[marti<aj) points to every act of sin that may occur while believers

walk in the light. "One who lives in the light knows his own frailty

and is continually availing himself of the purifying power of

Christ's sacrificial death."14 This is progressive sanctification.



            The claim (1:8a). The clause "If we say that we have no sin"

sets forth another claim that hinders fellowship. The claim, again

hypothetically stated, is a denial of the sinfulness of human nature.

The expression "have no sin" (a[marti<an ou]k e@xomen), peculiar to John

in the New Testament, may mean denial of guilt of an act of sin (cf.

John 19:11); but in view of 1 John 1:10 the expression seems intended

as a denial of the principle, or inherent nature, of sin. It expresses

the claim of the false teachers that they have advanced to a stage

beyond human sinfulness. It might be the claim of one denying that

human nature is sinful. Near the beginning of the present century a

certain professor in a liberal theological school maintained the

goodness of human nature and that what some insisted on calling his

"sinful nature" was simply the survival of his past animal ancestry

which man had not yet outgrown! More probably the claim in verse

8a refers to those who acknowledged that they once had a sinful na-

ture but that by a deeper personal experience this ugly root had been

completely eradicated in their lives. Years ago this writer noted an

advocate of this view who quoted this verse this way: "If we say

that we have [had] no sin, we deceive ourselves." By this he meant

that the old sinful nature has been eradicated. This view relegates

sin to the limbo of mistakes, frailties, pardonable errors of human

limitation—anything but "sin." Barker well notes, "Whatever the


13   The reading "Jesus Christ" in the Authorized Version is based on the Textus

Receptus. Most modern editors omit "Christ" here. For the textual evidence see Nes-

tle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblestiftung, 1981);

Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the

Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

14   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 82.


            An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          335


shape of the argument, and regardless of whether it is an affirma-

tion from the ancient world or a modern restatement, it remains true

that whenever the principle of sin is denied as an on-going reality,

there follows a denial of responsibility for individual action."15

            The condemnation (1:8b). Again John's condemnation is stated

both positively and negatively. Positively, "we are deceiving our-

selves" (e[autou>j planw?men, "ourselves we lead astray"16). The re-

flexive pronoun stresses that this is man's own doing. The verb im-

plies serious departure from the truth. In Matthew 24:5 Jesus used

the term of the coming false teachers; in Revelation it depicts the

work of Satan, the arch deceiver (12:9; 13:14; 20:3, 8, 10). Such self-

deception is possible only through a willful rejection of the evidence

concerning one's inner nature as a fallen human being.

            The negative result is that "the truth is not in us." Self-decep-

tion involves refusal to allow "the truth" a place in one's inner being.

"The truth" (h[ a]lh<qeia) denotes "that specific body of truth, both

moral and soteriological, that God has revealed to His people."17

As a person commits himself to Christ that truth becomes his inner


            The corrective (1:9). The corrective for such self-deception is

stated without a connective particle. The hypothetical form, "If we

confess our sins" (e]a>n o[mologw?men ta>j a[marti<aj h[mw?n), implies that

believers must be willing to meet the stipulated condition. More is

involved than a general acknowledgment of one's sinfulness; it is the

confession of sinful deeds to God. To "confess" means literally "to say

the same thing, to agree with." A believer must frankly be willing

to say the same thing about his sins (the sins he is conscious of hav-

ing committed) that God says about them. Christians must acknowl-

edge their sins for what they are, rather than using some flowery

designation that conceals their true character. The present tense

calls for such confession as their standing practice. The confession

should be as wide as the actual guilt.

            The assertion "He is faithful and righteous" assures God's re-

sponse whenever a believer's sins have been confessed. God is "faith-

ful" (pisto<j) to fulfill His promises of mercy to the penitent sinner;

He is also "righteous" (di<kaioj) in the way He deals with the con-

fessing sinner. The two terms indicate that in dealing with a Chris-


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

Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 12: 311.

16   Robert Young, The Holy Bible Consisting of the Old and New Covenants Trans-

lated according to the Letter and Idioms of the Original Languages (London: Pickering

& Inglis, n.d.).

17   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 125.


336                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1988


tian.'s sins God is true to His word and acts consistently with His

holy nature. His attributes of mercy and justice find their perfect

reconciliation in the cross of Christ (cf. 2:1-2).

            When a Christian confesses his sins, God deals with the double

result of those sins. The clause to forgive us our sins" (i!na a]f^? h[mi?n

ta>j a[marti<aj) points to a result in regard to the guilt of sin. Sins not

only break fellowship with God but they also leave a person guilty

and subject to punishment. But when a person confesses sins to God,

He graciously acts to "forgive" (a]f^?, lit. "send away, dismiss") them

as a definite act. God removes the guilt and restores the fellowship.

            The clause "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" states

God's further act of cleansing or purifying believers from the pollu-

tion of their sins. Sins make believers spiritually dirty as well as

guilty before God. Unrighteousness" (a]diki<aj) means that sin is a

failure to measure up, to the standard of righteousness. The cleansing

agent is not confession but the blood of Christ (1:7). Confession makes

possible its application to unrighteousness as a definite act. "All

unrighteousness" underlines that the cleansing is total.




            The claim (1:10a). "If we say that we have not sinned" (e]a>n

ei@pwmen o!ti ou]x h[marth<kamen) is a blatant denial of any sinful acts in

one's conduct. In contrast to the denial of a sinful nature in verse 8,

this is a denial of sinfulness in deed. If John was setting forth the

claim of the false teachers as professed Christians, then their claim

can be taken to mean "since conversion." Bennett insists that "this

interpretation is required by verse 8 and the general context."18 But

the statement is not so limited. As Burdick points out, "The perfect

tense verb refers to the past and with the negative it includes all of

past time up to the last minute. It claims that one is now in the state

of never having committed sin. It is therefore a denial that one has

ever sinned."19 Such an individual might acknowledge the reality of

sinful human conduct but claim that he himself had never committed

such evil deeds.

            The condemnation (1:10b). John announced a double verdict on

such a blatant claim. Positively, "we make Him a liar" (yeu<sthn

poiou?men au]to>n,  lit. "a liar we make Him").20 Such a person brazenly

stamps God's testimony that "all have sinned and fall short of the

glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) as a deliberate lie. The present tense


18    W. H. Bennett, The General Epistles, The Century Bible: A Modern Commentary

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), p. 293.

19   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 128.

20   Young, The Holy Bible Consisting of the Old and New Covenants.


          An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          337


characterizes God as being "a liar" (cf. the words of Jesus in John

8:44.) This impugns God's character and the whole program of re-


            The negative fact is that "His word is not in us." God's Word as

"the truth in the concrete form of the Scriptures, the inspired utter-

ances of God's mind,"21 has found no place in his inner life and being.

He has rejected the most elemental application of God's Word on his

own heart and conscience.

            Unlike the two previous false claims, for the third John offered

no remedy. For such willful rebellion against God and His Word

there is no remedy. Unless that rebellion is consciously terminated,

no possibility of acceptance and fellowship with God is possible.


                  The Provision for Maintaining Fellowship


            In 1 John 2:1-2, John set forth the heart of the gospel message.

God's provision in Christ Jesus enables sinful men to be forgiven and

have fellowship with Him. John indicated his ardent desire for his

beloved readers (2:1a), recognized the awful possibility that be-

lievers may sin (2:1b), and set forth the adequate provision in Christ




            The apostle's deep pastoral concern now prompted him to ad-

dress his readers directly as "my little children" (tekni<a mou). The

diminutive does not imply immaturity on the part of the readers but

is rather an expression of endearment on John's part. The term occurs

seven times in 1 John; setting aside Galatians 4:19 where the reading

is uncertain, it occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in John

13:33. John heard this expression of tender affection from the lips of

Jesus, and now in his old age it was a favorite term with him. His

fatherly heart went out to his spiritual children as he sought to aid

them and warn them against sin and the false teachers.

            John wrote, "I am writing these things to you that you may not

sin." This marks his ardent pastoral desire for his people. "These

things" apparently looks back to 1:5-10, which portrays the tragic

effects of sin. "That you may not sin" (i!na mh> a[ma<rthte) does not im-

ply that his readers were living in sin; the aorist tense indicates

that they must not condone even a single act of sin. John wanted them

to realize that "sin is so heinous in the sight of God that it may not

be indulged in even once."22


21   W. E. Vine, The Epistles of John: Light, Love, Light (Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Publishing House, n.d.), p. 17.

22   Gingrich, An Outline and Analysis of the First Epistle of John, p. 55.


338                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1988



            "And if anyone sins" (kai> e]a<n tij a[ma<rt^) recognizes the awful

possibility of sin. The conjunction "and" (kai>) implies that John also

wanted to make them aware of this sad fact. He was fully aware of

human frailty and the seductive power of sin and Satan. Because the

conjunction joins two antithetical clauses the NIV rendering "but"

seems better here. The aorist tense again implies an act of sin into

which the believer may be carried away contrary to the true tenor of

his life. Such a fall into sin does not destroy his membership in the

family of God but it disrupts fellowship between the Father and His

child. God's holiness demands that it must be dealt with.



            Having fallen into some sin, the believer is not left to his own

poor efforts to effect restoration. God has made effective provision

in Christ.

            The personal Advocate (2:1c). In writing "we have an Advo-

cate" instead of the expected "he has an Advocate," John made clear

his own need for this Advocate. The present tense, "we have," por-

trays Jesus Christ as continually maintaining His activity as

"Advocate" (para<klhton) on the believer's behalf. The term, often

transliterated into the English as "Paraclete," is a compound term

meaning "one who is summoned to the side of another" to help, corn-

fort, encourage, counsel, or intercede for, as the need may be. In the

fourth Gospel "Paraclete" occurs four times in Jesus' Upper Room

Discourse (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), always of the Holy Spirit.23 Only

here is the term used directly of Jesus Himself, though in John 14:16

Jesus implies His own identity as Paraclete by referring to the Holy

Spirit as "another Counselor" (NIV).

            John presented Jesus as an Advocate with the Father," ever in a

face-to-face relationship with the Father, pleading on behalf of

believers (Rom. 8:34). "The Father" recalls believers' status before

Him as errant sons. If "Advocate" is taken in a strictly legal sense,

Christ is viewed as acting as the believers' "defense attorney"24 to

counter the charges made against them by Satan, "the accuser" of the

saints (Rev. 12:10). In extrabiblical Greek the technical meaning of

"lawyer" or "attorney" is rare; it generally has the meaning of one


23   In each of these four occurrences The Amplified Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Publishing House, 1965) amplifies the word in this way "Comforter (Counselor,

Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby)."

24   Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship, pp. 34-35; Gordon H. Clark, First John: A Com-

mentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing- Co., n.d.), pp. 42-43.


            An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          339


who appears in court as a friend speaking on another's behalf.25

Then Christ is viewed as a believer's Friend who "comes before God

the Judge to intercede for the believer who has committed an act of


            John identified this Advocate as "Jesus Christ the righteous."

"Righteous" (di<kaion), used without the article, is descriptive of His

character. "The efficacy of His ministry is guaranteed by the righ-

teousness of His Person."27 Being personally conformed to all the

righteous demands of God's law, He pleads the believers' case in

keeping with the requirements of a holy law.

            The perfect propitiation (2:2). John wrote that Jesus "Himself is

the propitiation for our sins." The pronoun "Himself" (au]to>j) under-

lines the personal identity of the Christians' Advocate with "the

propitiation for our sins." "Is" (e]stin) indicates that His past aton-

ing work as "the propitiation for our sins" has perpetual validity.

The noun rendered "propitiation" (i[lasmo<j), occurring elsewhere in

the New Testament only in 1 John 4:10, denotes the means whereby

sins are covered and remitted. Had John written that Jesus is the

"Propitiator," half the truth would have been lost. Then His work

would have been comparable to that of the high priest on the Day of

Atonement when he sprinkled sacrificial blood on the, mercy seat to

cover the sins of the people so that God could again deal with them

in mercy. Unlike the Old Testament high priests, Jesus Christ is

Himself "the atoning sacrifice" (NIV) in that He offered Himself as

the sacrifice whereby the barrier which sin interposes between God

and man is removed. Pagans might think of offering sacrifices to ,ap-

pease their offended gods as a means of regaining their favor, but

Scripture presents God Himself as taking the initiative in sending

His Son as the propitiation for sins (4:10); the cause of the estrange-

ment between God and man lies with man, not God. In making "Him

who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21) God achieved

the true and lasting solution to the sin problem; the perfect sacrifice

of the incarnate Christ enables God to "be just and the justifier of the

one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).

            The scope of the atoning sacrifice was "not for ours [i.e., our sins]

only, but also for those of the whole world" (2:2b). The strong ad-

versative "but" (a]lla>) marks the contrasted sphere of "our" sins and

those of "the whole world," the world of mankind. The expression


25   Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early

Christian Literature, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: Uni-

versity of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 623-24.

26   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 130.

27   Vine, The Epistles of John, p. 21.


340                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1988


offers no basis for universalism, but means that "no one is, by Divine

predetermination, excluded from the scope of God's mercy; the effi-

cacy of the propitiation, however, is made actual for those who be-

lieve."28 It reminds believers that they are not the exclusive objects

of God's redemptive concern. But God has decreed that to be saved

each sinner must personally accept Christ as his Redeemer. "Men

may—yea, and do—reject the propitiation when they reject the Pro-

pitiatorthe Lord Jesus Christ."29


                        The Signs of Fellowship Maintained


            The opening "and" (kai>) in 2:3 connects this paragraph (2:3-6)

with the preceding discussion concerning fellowship. John presented

two closely related signs that show that fellowship is being main-




            John fully believed in the reality of knowing God. He wrote,

"And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep

His commandments" (2:3). But in contradiction to the Gnostics, he

maintained that no professed knowledge of God is valid if it does not

have moral consequences. The phrase "by this" (e]n tou<t&) looks for-

ward to the sign of obedience in the second half of the verse.

John then spoke of "knowing" God as synonymous with having

fellowship with Him. The statement "we know that we have come

to know Him" (ginw<skomen o!ti e]gnw<kamen au]to<n) points to inner pro-

gressive knowledge or assurance that believers have entered into a

state of knowing Him. Here John used this verb to denote knowledge

gained by experience or instruction. "Him" may mean either the Fa-

ther or the Son; in reality the believer knows both, since the Father

has revealed Himself through His Son.

            "If we keep His commandments" declares the ground for assur-

ance. The conditional statement again recalls that this may not be

true of some who loudly claim to know God. "Keep His command-

ments" (ta>j e]ntola>j au]tou? thrw?men, lit. "His commandments we may

be keeping") demands a careful, watchful obedience to the commands

of God, not one's own self-chosen practices. Such obedience must be

the characteristic practice of the one who is in a state of knowing

God. The one who has been brought into a saving relationship with


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),


29   Gingrich, An Outline and Analysis of the First Epistle of John. p. 60.


            An Exposition of 1 John 1:5—2:6                          341


God finds within him a growing love for and desire to obey His com-


            In 2:4 this test of obedience is underlined by its very opposite.

"The one who says" (o[ le<gwn) now replaces the hypothetical "if"

construction. While essentially the same, the "if" construction stres-

ses the hypothetical assertion made, while this construction pictures

the individual personally advancing the indicated claim. Here two

present tense participles under one article mark the sharp contra-

diction between claim and conduct, "saying . . . and not keeping" (o[

le<gwn . . . mh> thrw?n). His conduct invalidates his claim. For John the

knowledge of God can never be merely speculative, or mental profes-

sion; it must be practical and experiential.

            John's evaluation is twofold. Positively, such a person "is a

liar," making a claim which deep within he knows is false; his

character is bad. Negatively, "the truth is not in him" (e]n tou<t& h[

a]lh<qeia ou]k e@stin). God's revealed truth is not present in him.

            By contrast, "whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God

has truly been perfected" (2:5a). These words speak of the glorious

outcome of obedience. It is assumed that this individual has de-

clared himself a believer, but the crucial concern is whether he is

habitually keeping "His word." The designation is broader than

"His commandments" (2:3). His concern is to be obedient in any mat-

ter that he knows to be God's will. As a result "In him the love of

God has truly been perfected" (a]lhqw?j e]n tou<t& h[ a]ga<ph tou? qeou?

tetelei<wtai). "Truly," placed emphatically forward, stresses the

assured result "in this one." "The love of God" may be taken as an

objective genitive, "man's love for God,"30 or as a subjective genitive,

"God's love."31 Both make good sense, but the latter here seems more

probable. In support of the subjective sense, Kistemaker points to

"the parallel in verses 4 and 5—'[God's] truth is not in him' (v. 4) and

'God's love is . . . in him' v. 5," as well as the fact that in "the epis-

tle John explains the origin of love: 'love comes from God' (4:7)... .

God is the source and giver of love."32 Then the meaning is that in

the habitually obedient believer God's love "has been perfected"; it

has attained its goal objectively in him. "An obedient believer has a


30   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 91; Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle,

pp. 137-38; Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 91.

31   Hodges, "1 John," p. 888; Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (reprint,

Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), p. 49; Barker, "1 John," pp. 315-


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

in New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 257.


342                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1988


deep, full-orbed acquaintance with ‘God's love.’"33



            "By this we know that we are in Him" (2:5b) may be taken with

what precedes or follows. Views are divided, but it seems best, with

most modern versions,34 to take it with what follows. This agrees

with the same expression in 2:3. The experiential knowledge gained

from the test is that "we are in Him," meaning either the Father or

the Son. The ambiguity may be intentional. Vine well remarks,


            The condition of being "in Him" is not a matter of absorption into De-

            ity, as Pantheism teaches, but of spiritual relationship and unity of life,

            which involves the removal of the alienation of man in his unregener-

            ate state from God, and the enjoyment of fellowship with God and one-

            ness with Him in His will and purpose.35


            The words "the one who says he abides in Him" (o[ le<gwn e]n

au]t&? me<nein) refer to the individual's testimony concerning his

characteristic relationship with God. "In Him" apparently refers to

the Father rather than the Son. "Abides" (me<nein), a characteristic

Johannine term, portrays habitual fellowship with Him as an active

relationship that endures. A believer's testimony involves moral

obligation: "ought himself to walk in the same manner as He

walked." "Ought" (o]fei<lei), rather than "must" (dei), points to an

abiding inner realization that "he who declares his position is

morally bound to act [according] to the declaration which he has


            "In the same manner as He walked" (kaqw>j e]kei?noj periepa<th-

sen, lit. "even as that one walked") calls for careful conformity to

the pattern left by Christ as He engaged in His daily activities here

on earth. The completed example now stands before the believer,

challenging him to be walking "in the same manner" (au]to>j), in ex-

act conformity to the example before him. In thus insisting that

there is an inseverable bond between the believer's professed rela-

tionship to Christ and his morally consistent conduct, John delivered

a crucial blow against the Gnostics who tried to divorce their

claimed spiritual enlightenment from their daily moral conduct.


33   Hodges, "1 John," p. 888.

34   This is the rendering in the ASV, Berkeley, NASB, NEB,. RSV, and others, as shown by

their use of a colon at the end of verse 5.

35   Vine, The Epistles of John, p. 25.

36   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 91.

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