WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

Chapter One (Lesson IV) 10/08/20

Frederick Denison Maurice (1805–1872) was an English Anglican theologian, a prolific author, and one of the founders of Christian socialism, and makes an interesting point here. He observes that many call this manuscript an Epistle. It’s because no salutation greets the reader as done in other letters by other Apostles. He does not address it to any particular body of believers or any specific person. The author does not introduce himself, nor does he send any greetings, such as you would expect of someone far from his friends. In these respects, it differs from the other Epistles in the New Testament. German Theologian Friedrich Düsterdieck (1822-1906) does not see this as an actual letter, but only a brief discussion.[1]

The words “These things we write to you,” and others like them, do not allow us to suppose that it was a discourse delivered with the lips. Otherwise, says Maurice, we might have fancied an aged man standing up in an assembly of men among whom he pastored and mentored a long time, to remind them what lessons he learned, and for what end he pursued a long life. There is a likelihood that his age and feebleness kept him from verbalizing what was in his heart. Nor should we count out his sufferings on his exile on the isle of Patmos. The Spirit inspired him to put his thoughts into writing for us to profit from them as much as those who lived in his day.[2]

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) tells us that false teachers began to spread the theory that sin exists only in the body. Still, the spirit inside is perfectly pure and always must be. The orthodox disciples under John’s leadership opposed this heresy imported from the pagan Orient. One of their arguments was that it denied the sinlessness of Jesus, the Anointed One who had a physical body. If He were to have been sinful, His sinfulness would have revealed the human’s tendency to do wrong. The Dualists,[3] also called Gnostics, got around this critical point by denying the Anointed One’s body’s reality. They boldly asserted that He was a phantom, like the various theophanies, (appearances of God, in human form in the Old Testament). In other words, the incarnation was a sham.

To believe that, removes the cornerstone of Christian theology – Jesus as our Mediator. It makes Him only human. The atonement in His blood then becomes an illusion since He only had the appearance of death, and His resurrection must be unreal if He only appeared to die. John’s main controversy with these Dualists centered on the question, was the body of Jesus real flesh and bones? It accounts for the emphasis John puts so often in this Epistle on believing in John’s proclamation: “Christ come in the flesh.”

It also accounts for the first words of the Epistle containing the theme which John proposes to amplify. Namely, his divine Master’s real humanity, just as he states the proposition of the Lord’s humanness, proven in John’s Gospel. That is the Son of God’s Supreme Divinity, His being the Logos, who was with God and therefore had the distinct personality of one who was God. We have one Gospel and one Epistle, both by the same author, announcing their subject in their treaties’ opening sentence.[4]

Michelle Murray tells us that the earliest attestation of 1 John occurs in the Christian author Polycarp’s letter, a disciple of John,[5] to the Philippians dated around 117–120 AD. Polycarp warns, whoever does not confess that Jesus the Anointed One came in the flesh is an antichrist. Not only that, but anyone who does not acknowledge the cross’ message is of the devil. And finally, any person who misinterprets the Gospel to cover their immoral behavior by saying there is no resurrection and judgment is the firstborn of Satan.[6] It is very much what John was saying here in this first letter. While some argue that 1 John predates John’s Gospel (circa 90-100 AD), the majority of experts place its composition to sometime after the writing of the Gospel, therefore putting its date of composition at approximately 100-110 AD.[7] While these dates are only suggestive, they do come relatively close to what we’ve learned from history.

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) says that if you want truth concerning God’s kingdom in its present characteristics, you will find it in the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude during the days when it is still a mystery. If you desire the truth concerning God’s ecclesia,[8] Christ’s body, formed by the Holy Spirit during the dispensation of Grace, you will find that in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  But if you seek truth for the family of God – the believer looked upon as one born again into the divine family – you find that particularly in the letters of the Apostle John. Ironside goes on to say that in the Gospel of John, we have everlasting life as manifested in the Son of God. In the Epistles of John, we have everlasting life, as demonstrated in the children of God.[9]

At first glance, we must acknowledge that there is no salutation, as most letters contain. Few people write a letter without beginning with “Dear Mom or Dad,” “Dear Friend or Sirs.” It is not out of line to see this more as a message writing to address some current situation or problem. These words by John naming a part of God, or attribute of the Almighty, existing before the beginning of the world is not new to Jewish thought. King Solomon spoke of Wisdom, which is the Living Word of God as preexisting before the universe’s foundation. What he says about Wisdom is the personification of the Messiah Himself.

The Lord made me in the beginning, long before He did anything else. I was formed a long time ago before the world was made. I was born before there was an ocean before the springs began to flow. I was born before the mountains and hills were set into place before the earth and fields were made before the dust of this world was formed. I was there when he set up the skies when he drew a circle in the ocean to make a place for the land I was there when he put the clouds in the sky and made the deep springs flow. I was there when he set the limits on the sea to make it stop where he said. I was there when he laid the foundations of the earth I grew up as a child by his side, laughing and playing all the time. I played in the world He made and enjoyed the people he put there. So now, O sons, listen to me, for happy are they who keep my ways. Hear my teaching and be wise. Do not turn away from it. Happy is the person who listens to me, watching every day at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me finds life and gets favor from the Lord. But whoever does not find me, only hurt themselves. All those who reject me love death.”[10]

You might say, “King Solomon was smart!” But remember, he prayed for wisdom, and it was God’s wisdom he received.[11] That same inspiration inspired the Apostle John to embody Wisdom in the One who came as the Light and Life and Word – God in the flesh.

Moses was the first to hear this new of a preexisting God when at the burning bush on Mt. Horeb in the Sinai desert, he asked God who He was. The Hebrew response was Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, which means “I Am that I Am and always will be.”[12] The prophet Isaiah also had a similar revelation of who God was as the First and the Last. That means there was no God before Him, and there will be no God after Him. And the reason is that God has always existed and always will exist,[13] and His Son is just like Him.[14]

Furthermore, when the prophet Micah was inspired to announce a new king’s birth would be in Bethlehem of Judea, he said that this new king has been alive from eternal ages past.[15] It is the same John who wrote the Gospel, starting with the words: “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.[16] And when this Living Word came to earth in human form, He informed His fellow Jews that He was in existence before Abraham was born.[17] So it’s no wonder that in his vision, John recognized Him right away when He said I am the Alpha and the Omega, Who was and was to come.[18]

No doubt, John recalls the precious days when he walked side by side with the Master. The very thought of it brings excitement to his voice. Though no longer so young, his heart is still tender to the touch of memories as he thinks on those exciting days. Yet, he does not indicate a wish to go back. His desire now is to propagate what he heard and how it has stayed with him over the years. John is not looking back as much as he is looking forward.

John did not hesitate to express his confidence in the One who existed before the universe was formed and brought everything to existence. No doubt the Apostle remembered the prophetic words of Isaiah: “Who was able to make all this happen?  Who controlled the lives of everyone from the beginning?  I, the Lord, am the One. I was here at the beginning, and I will be here when all things are finished.”[19] The same Spirit that inspired him to write the opening to his Gospel [20] now motivates him to write this letter to those who believed. That’s why he could write this opening with assurance, that the One who spoke the words: “The fact is, before Abraham was born, I Am,”[21] was the One with whom he walked and talked for over three years.


[1] Düsterdieck, Friedrich: Critical and Exegetical Handbook on the Revelation of John, Trans. Henry E. Jacobs, Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1887, p.24

[2] Maurice, F. D., The Epistles of St. John: A Series of Lectures on Christian Ethics, London; New York: Macmillan and Co., 1893, pp. 19–20

[3] Dualism is not biblical. Scripture does not teach that there are two coequal eternal forces existing together. God alone has existed eternally.

[4] Steele, Daniel: Half Hours with St. John’s Epistles, Christian Witness Company, Boston, 1901, pp. 2–3

[5] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. III, Ch. 3:4, See Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1.

[6] Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 7:1

[7] Murray, Michelle, Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 448. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.    

[8] Ekklesia (or ecclesia) is the Greek word translated in the New Testament as “church.” It comes from “ek,” meaning “out from and to” and kaleo, meaning “to call,” and has to do with a group of people called out from one place and to another. It is an assembly or a congregation. 

[9] H. A. Ironside. The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., (Kindle Location 39)

[10] Proverbs 8:22-36

[11] 1 Kings 3:9

[12] Exodus 3:14; See

[13] Isaiah 40:28-41:4

[14] Hebrews 13:8

[15] Micah 5:2

[16] John 1:1-2

[17] Ibid. 8:58

[18] Revelation 1:8, 11, 17-18; 2:8

[19] Isaiah 41:4

[20] See John 1:1-13

[21] Ibid. 8:58

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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