NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
INTRODUCTION (Lesson III) 10/07/20
Maybe after reading this touching story, you will see things about love here in John’s first Epistle that you never saw before. Why is God’s love so consequential and loving God, and each other is so necessary? I’m willing to believe that this young man’s experience provides the element of respect for which all Christian families can identify with when a child, once dedicated to God, goes astray. Still, the Holy Spirit was able to lead them back to their rightful place in the congregation of believers.
It is essential to know that John Chrysostom also validates this story of John’s young friend while assisting Theodore of Mopsuetia, who fell away into heresy. When believers petitioned Theodore to help those in his area suffering through a famine, he refused by saying he was far from having any confidence he could do so because his sins were always on his mind as though they had just taken place. In other words, Theodore felt unworthy to believe God could use him in that way. So, when Chrysostom went to guide Theodore back to the truth, he listened to everything he experienced. He then persuaded him to pray for those dealing with the famine. So, Theodore prayed, and God put an end to the drought.
Chrysostom then relates what happened to that young man who was at first a disciple of John, the son of Zebedee, but afterward became a robber chief for a long time. However, once the blessed Apostle John held the young fallen brother with holy hands, he returned to his former level of Christian virtue. In the same way, Chrysostom encouraged Theodore not to misunderstand. He knew as much about the truth as Chrysostom did. The preacher often heard Theodore admiring the Apostle John’s great humility and how, first of all, John kissed the young man’s blood-stained hand. Then, embracing him, he brought him back to his former spiritual condition.
We also find an interesting discussion on the subject respecting Easter, Baptism, Fasting, Marriage, the Eucharist, and additional Ecclesiastical Rites. It had become an issue because not all the congregations of believers celebrated these holy days on the same day. Early church scholar, Socrates Scholasticus (380-439 AD), notes this routine in his Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius addressed the celebration of Easter after the vernal equinox and his book “The Life of Constantine.” Rome issued this order so that the churches in Western, Southern, Northern, and some in the East of the Roman Empire were to observe this protocol. Emperor Constantine chose the date of March 21 to celebrate Easter.
Therefore, says Socrates Scholasticus, this date was observed in Rome, throughout Italy, Africa, Egypt, Spain, France, Britain, Libya, Greece, the diocese of Asia and Pontus, and Cilicia. That is despite the fact there are plenty of other churches in these areas that did not. Some said, in picking the right date, we must have nothing in common with the treacherous Jews. Yet, what is most interesting is that according to Socrates, most Christians in those days celebrated Easter on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan (late March to early April). They say that this date was given to them by the Apostle John, whereas the vernal equinox’s celebration was the Apostles Peter and Paul’s preference.
Polycarp (69-155 AD) was a disciple of the Apostle John and ordained by him as Bishop of Smyrna and chief Bishop of Asia. Many Apostles that saw Jesus in the flesh became teachers under John’s supervision. Specific questions arose concerning the Passover’s day, so John went to Rome in the time of the emperor Antoninus Pius while Anicetus ruled the church in that city. He led many believers who were deceived through Marcion and Valentinus’s persuasion back to the faith. One day, Marcion and Valentinus met Polycarp by chance and asked, “Do you know who we are?” Polycarp replied, “Yes, I recognize the firstborn of the devil.”
But that wasn’t the only time John rebuked a heretic. Eusebius writes that there was an unbelieving agnostic named Cerinthus (50-100 AD) around this same time. He was the author of several heretical books by revelations he pretended were written by some great apostle, revealing marvelous things that he falsely claims were shown only to him by angels. He claims that after the resurrection, the Anointed One will set up His kingdom and that people dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures.
According to Irenaeus (130-202 AD), in the first book of his work Against Heresies, he mentions some more horrendous false doctrines written by Cerinthus. Then, in Irenaeus’ third book he relates a story which deserves to read. He says, on the authority of Polycarp, that the Apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, upon learning that Cerinthus was inside, he jumped up rushed out the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. And he advised those that were with him to do the same, saying, “Let’s run just in case the bath collapses with Cerinthus inside, for he is the enemy of the truth.”
Afterward, during the reign of Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus in the fourth persecution after Nero, Polycarp was brought to court at Smyrna and all the people in the Amphitheater cried out against Polycarp to be burned. This Christian hero wrote a valuable Epistle to the Philippians, which believers read to the present day in Asia’s meetings. In other words, just like the Apostle John, his mentor, and Jesus, his Master, Polycarp, did not mince words. He told the truth and, as a result, died as a martyr of the faith.
Leaping from Polycarp in 200 AD to Reformer John Calvin, in 1500 AD, Irenaeus makes this observation: In this first epistle, the Apostle John wants to set before us the only true contentment God was willing to confer on us through His only Son. John meant this to lift our thoughts to things above. To do this, it requires that the truth must be absolute and provable. Thus, it became the main subject of what he says here in these opening verses.
When we examine these words from John: “what we have seen, what we have heard, and what we have looked on,” it strengthens our faith in the Gospel. John does not make such assertions without any reasoning. Our salvation depends on the Gospel and its reliability to the highest degree. We all know by experience how hard it is sometimes to believe what we cannot see. As Calvin says: To understand is not lightly to form an opinion or to assent only to what is said, but a firm, absolute conviction, so we may dare to subscribe to the truth as fully proven. It is for this reason that the Apostle heaps together so many things in confirmation of the Gospel.
James Macknight (1721-1800), well known for his Harmony of the Gospels, gives us a clear picture that the John who wrote the Gospel and the John who wrote this Epistle was the same. He compares a Scripture verse in both documents to show their similarity: Following Verses come from the NIV.
|FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN||GOSPEL OF JOHN|
|1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;||1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God 1:4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.|
2:5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:
|14:3 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.|
|2:6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.||15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me|
|2:8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.||13:34a A new command I give you: Love one another.|
|3:11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.||13:34b As I have loved you, so you must love one another.|
|2:8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.||1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 1:9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.|
|2:10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.||11:10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.|
|2:13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.||17:3a Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God.|
|2:14 I write to you, dear children because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.||17:3b And Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.|
|2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.||3:3 “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 3:5 “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”|
|3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.||1:12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God|
|3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.||17:24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”|
|3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.||8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.|
|3:13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.||15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.|
|4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.||3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.|
|4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.||1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known|
|5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God||20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.|
|5:14 If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.||14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.|
|5:20 We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.||17:2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.|
 Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9, An Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall, Letter 1, p. 184
 Socrates Scholasticus: The Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 5, Ch. 22, p. 302
 Marcion believed that Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. The doctrine, practices and beliefs of Valentinus and the Gnostic movement that bore his name were condemned as heretical by proto-orthodox church leaders and scholars. Prominent Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome wrote against Gnosticism. Because early church leaders encouraged the destruction of Gnostic texts, most evidence for the Valentinian theory comes from its critics and detractors, most notably Irenaeus, since he was especially concerned with refuting Valentinianism.
 Agnostic refers to a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.
 The Church History of Eusebius, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1, Bk. 3, Ch. 28, p. 240
 Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, Ch. 17, p. 741