WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN (Lesson V) 10/09/20

Now we come to the text itself. First, by Exposition, we will examine what else we find in the Scriptures that harmonizes with what John says here in His epistle. Commentary of Church scholars will follow from the earliest years after the Anointed One’s ascension to our present era. They are in chronological order, so you can see how theology and interpretation have evolved.

1:1a We want to tell you about the Word that gives life – the One who existed before the world began.

EXPOSITION

The concept of things existing in eternity before they appeared on earth was not new to John. The prophet Isaiah speaks about how God called out God’s creation and humankind from the beginning. And who did this? The answer came, “I, the Lord, am the one. I was here at the beginning, and I will be here when all things are finished.”[1] And the prophet Micah was told why God chose Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Anointed One. God’s message to him was, “His coming was planned long ago, from the beginning.”[2]

When Luke wrote his Gospel, he mentioned that he used the eyewitness reports circulating among the early disciples.[3] No doubt, one of those disciples was the Apostle Peter. He wrote in his second letter: “We had nothing to do with man-made stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One and of His coming again. We have seen His great power with our own eyes …We heard this voice come from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”[4]

Even after our Lord’s resurrection, some believed that those who saw Him alive were seeing a ghost. But Jesus visited the upper-room and told them, “Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me. Touch me. You can see that I have a living body; a ghost does not have a body like this.”[5] That’s why John mentioned in his Gospel that the Anointed One became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth, and some have seen His glory – the glory of the only Son of the heavenly Father![6]

So the Apostle John is on solid ground when he begins telling his readers what he personally knows about the Son of God who came as the Word to earth so that we could know for sure what God wanted to do through His plan of salvation, and how we can receive that salvation by faith in what His Son was going to do on the cross and in the grave. That is why John sounds so confident in what he is saying because he has many other witnesses to back up his story.

COMMENTARY

One of the earliest known commentaries on John’s first Epistle was by Christian theologian and philosopher Clement of Alexandria (150-216 AD). Commenting on verse one, Clement says the phrase “In (from) the beginning” in the Gospel refers to the beginning of creation. In John’s Epistle, “That which was from the beginning,” speaks of the Son who co-existed with Father before creation. As such, says Clement, John points to an eternity without a beginning. It also means that the Son of God, who is equal in substance with the Father, is also eternal and uncreated. That explains why John started his Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word.”

What an incredible impact this gives to John’s claim that “we have seen Him with our eyes.” Not only saw Him present in the flesh but also, “Whom we touched with our hands.” For Clement, this not only means they saw and touched His flesh, but the virtues of God’s Son, like the sunbeam which penetrates to the darkest places – the sunbeam coming in the flesh became seeable, hearable, and discernable to the disciples.[7] And just think, now we can say that the Spirit of this same Son of God now lives in our hearts. That should make Him more real to all of us.

Over one hundred years later, Egyptian Christian theologian and church statesman Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 AD), – who writes more like a Greek philosopher than an avid Bible scholar – mentions that John indicates here that the Word was coeternal with God. No other word, such as the Greek adjective gennēsis (meaning, “to engender,” “to birth”), can express the relationship of the Word, to God. But because of the Divine Purpose of Creation and Redemption, there is a process stirring within the divine Godhead. The phrase “Divine energy” can also define God’s eternal power becoming Reality, a moving force in God that never ceases. Thus the word “engender” began the great drama of the Universe rising to the height of the Incarnation. After the system is complete, it restores a fallen person to the family of God, which was lost. After Jesus returned to the Father, the Son received the Kingdom for God to be all in all.[8]

Didymus the Blind (313-398) reveals that many in his day believed this phrase refers to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. John spoke of himself and other disciples who also heard the Lord was raised from the dead and saw Him with their own eyes. They touched His feet, His hands, and His side; Thomas felt the nails’ imprint in His hands. 

However, Didymus believes that the Apostle John is speaking of the Word of life, which was from the beginning, and who said to Moses, “I am that I am and always will be.” He is the One of whom the Law and the prophets spoke, saying that He would come. He came and manifested Himself in the flesh. After much handling of the scriptural texts which bear witness to Him, says Didymus, this is what we believe about the Word of Life.[9]

In other words, the divine potential that is always at work in the Creator did not end with creating the universe. That was just the beginning of a Divine Plan to bring forth a Son, born of a woman, to be His personal Living Word to His creation. But it didn’t stop there; this same force continued with humanity’s regeneration from a fallen, desperate, and lost creature into children of the Living God.

The Bishop of the Roman province of Ravenna on the northeast coast of Italy and known as the “Doctor of Homilies,” Peter Chrysologus (380-450 AD) stated so clearly: How can anyone believe that what already existed began later on?[10] And one day, this same power will cause the Son to return to gather all those regenerated to rise and be with God in eternity where it all began. As the song goes, “Oh, what a mighty God we serve!”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) makes a valid point by saying it must be sweet and healthy for a Christian’s heart that enjoys the Bread of God to hear what the Apostle John says here. Not only that, but it should always be in the mind of God’s holy church, the body of the Bread of Life.[11] That means, whatever is already in one’s heart by faith gets excited when the believer hears it spoken by someone physically present with the author of the Gospel.

The Patriarch of Antioch, Severus (459-538 AD), and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, says that considering that the Apostle said that “No one has ever seen God,”[12] who can assure us that the Living Word of life has been seen and touched. Severus opposed what was known then as the “Chalcedon theory.” It conflicted with the dual God/Man oneness nature of the heavenly Son of God and earthly Messiah. It was in the incarnate form He was seen and touched. All doubts about Him were proven to be true of Him in that way, for He is the same indivisible Word, both visible and invisible. Without diminishing in either respect, He became touchable in both His divine-human nature. He worked His miracles in His divinity and suffered for us in His humanity. It was in His incarnate form that He was visible and touchable. Not only that, but John also said that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[13] How did he know? Because Jesus said, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.[14] [15]

Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) seems convinced that the Apostle John wrote this Epistle as a warning to churches about heretics like Cerinthus (who flourished around 50-100 AD).[16] He was an early gnostic who called himself a Christian but did not believe that the Supreme God made the physical world or that the Anointed One descended from the Father. The Father anointed a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to be His Messiah. Also, Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD) taught that the God who sent Jesus into the world was a different, higher deity than the creator god of Judaism. He does so by conveying the Lord’s teaching in His own words and confounding the heretics’ foolishness with His apostolic authority.[17]


[1] Isaiah 41:4

[2] Micah 5:2

[3] Luke 1:2

[4] 2 Peter 1:16, 18

[5] Luke 24:39 – Easy to Read Version (ERV)

[6] John 1:14 – The Living Bible (LB)

[7] Clement of Alexandria: Comments on the First Epistle of John, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 1160

[8] Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4,: Ch, 2, The Situation After the Council of Nicaea, p. 77

[9] Didymus the Blind: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 166

[10] Peter Chrysologus: On 1 John, Sermon 57, Bray, G. (Ed.). op. cit., p. 166

[11] Augustine of Hippo: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, N.T. Vol. XI, Ed. Gerald Bray, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2000, p. 166

[12] John 1:18; 1 John 4:12

[13] Ibid 1:1

[14] Ibid 14:9

[15] Severus of Antioch: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., pp. 166–167

[16] Cerinthus flourished around 50-100 AD

[17] Bede the Venerable: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. XI, op. cit. p. 167

About drbob76

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