WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

Chapter One (Lesson VI) 10/12/20

Œcumenius (circa 700-800 AD) believes that the Apostle John wrote this counter to the Jews and Greeks. They claimed that Christianity was a recent offshoot from Judaism, conspired by rebels like Peter, James, and John to declare a mystery too new to be taken seriously. John responds that this is older than Judaism. It has existed from the beginning. Not just before the Law, but before creation.[1]

Isho’dad of Merv (circa 823-883 AD), Bishop of Hdatta, a city on the East bank of the Tigris in what is today Iraq, seems to be in the same camp by saying that what many have said about this Epistle have erred, supposing the Apostle John wrote it. Yet, if they investigated the matter, they would have seen that the thought, shape, and authority of this letter are vastly inferior to the sound words of the Evangelist.[2] To the end of the first millennium, there were disagreements among scholars as to who wrote this letter. We have no way of knowing exactly how their views influenced what branch of the early church’s theology. In any case, Isho’dad would be applauded by today’s liberal theologians while conservative and fundamental theologians would turn it thumbs down.

Bulgarian theologian Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1108) believes that the Apostle John is saying that those who have heard this before from the initial teaching, go on to see Him, not bodily, but rationally, and not with physical eyes, but with their mind’s eye. And to “touch” the Word of Life means we now have that life through the Word.[3] It also might be reasoned about the Word, says Theophylact, that it initially existed because we heard it from the Law and the Prophets that the Word would come. When the Word came embodied in the flesh, we saw Him. For God, as He is in Himself, “no one has ever seen.”[4]

Theophylact goes on to say that we joined the appeared Word not frivolously, but, as already stated, after touching, that is, after searching in the Law and the Prophets, we believed the Word that appeared in the flesh. We saw and felt not what the Word “was” (for “who will explain His kind?)”[5] What the Word “became,” we touched and mentally touched with our senses, for example, as Thomas did after the resurrection. He was united and indivisible, forever the same, visible and invisible, both encompassing and immense, untouchable and tangible, broadcasting like a man, and wonderworking like God. It is how we speak of the Word because of the close union of God with the flesh.[6] Keep in mind; this is what was being taught in the Church almost 1,000 years ago. No wonder the Spirit brought Reformation to the Church by the 1400s.

English Augustinian spiritual writer Walter Hilton (1340-1395) wonders whether or not a particular love of Jesus is necessary for salvation, and how. Of course, he knew that some would oppose such an idea. They would object: If what you say is true, it doesn’t match what we find in the writings of other holy men. Some of them say, (as we understand them), that the person who cannot love this blessed name “Jesus” nor find and feel its spiritual joy and delight with sweetness will be an outsider to the bliss of Heaven and never get there. Hilton’s explanation is in the style of writing in his day and may be hard to understand if left in its original form. So, I have attempted to make it more understandable for today’s reader. I hope you’ll take the time to read his response slowly.

When I read these words, says Hilton, they astonished me, making me anxious. I hoped (as they said) through the mercy of our Lord, they would be safe by keeping of the commandments. Also, by true repentance for their former sinful life, but who never felt any spiritual sweetness, in the name of Jesus. Therefore, I marvel even more to find them saying (as I interpret it) contrary to what I believe. To this, I answer that what (in my opinion) they’re saying (if I understand it correctly) is accurate, and not a bit contrary to what I have said, for this Name, Jesus is nothing else in English but Healer or Health.

Hilton goes on to say that every person that lives is spiritually sick, for there is no one that lives without sin, which is a spiritual sickness, as the Apostle John said: “If we say we have no sin, we beguile ourselves, and there is as no truth in us.” Therefore, they can never come to the joy of heaven until cured of this ghostly sickness. But no person may have this spiritual healing except they desire it, and love it, and enjoy it, just as much as they hope to get it. 

Now, the name of Jesus brings nothing else but spiritual health. They indeed say that no person can be safe unless they love and adore the name of Jesus for no one can be spiritually healed until they love and desire spiritual wellbeing. The same is true of a sick individual who feels that no earthly thing is so dear, nor so needful, nor so much cherished, as bodily fitness.

The conclusion is simple, says Hilton. If you would give them all the self-esteem and riches of this world and not make them whole, they will not be satisfied. In the same way, a person that is sick spiritually, and feels the pain of conviction; nothing is so dear, nor so needful, nor so coveted, as is spiritual energy, and that is Jesus, without whom all the joys of heaven cannot please them. Accordingly, it appears that none can be saved unless they love salvation, have it through the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and only by the merits of His suffering which love they may have even though they live and die in poverty.[7]

In the early days of the Protestant Reformation, William Tyndale (1494-1536) was an English scholar and became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his (incomplete) translation of the Bible into English and makes an interesting point when he states that the Son of God, who was Everlasting Life, did not yield to the condemnation of the death sentence demanded by the Law. He died on our behalf, not His own. Therefore, since He overcame death by rising from the dead, now that we are alive in union with Him, we too are freed from the Law’s condemnation.[8] The Lord did not win victory just for Himself, but for us.[9] This truth certainly puts a new light on what Jesus said at the last supper concerning His body and His blood.[10] So, says Tyndale, there is a big difference between believing there is a God and believing in the God who is there.[11]

Scottish philosopher and Church of Scotland theologian Hugh Binning (1627-1653) makes a statement about the circumstances in his day that might be applied to our situation today. He notes that some pretend to possess more precise knowledge of creation and things of the past, including religion. As Binning sees it, most of this is pretention in having an expanded understanding of divine things. They claim to have brighter perception than those in the past, which they describe as “Times of ignorance and darkness, which God winked at.”[12] If that were so, says Binning, we would count the days we live in now as happy and blessed.[13] I doubt if anyone will have a better relationship with God today than Abraham did in his day, without first getting to know Jesus.

Daniel Whitby (1638-1726)[14] paraphrased verse one as follows: “That which was from the beginning (of the Gospel-dispensation, that) which we have heard, which we have seen (namely, discerned as clearly as if we had seen it) with our eyes, (that) which we have looked upon, and our hands have (as it were) handled, of the Word of life, (declare we to you).” He explains that he rendered it as “From the beginning of the Gospel dispensation;” because he finds that is the constant use of the phrase in this Epistle, and elsewhere, where it relates to what Christians heard and saw. He mentions that John’s term “From the beginning” is used nine times in his first two epistles.[15] For Whitby, this is the best argument against those who claim new light or a more profound revelation of the Messiah than what John testifies.[16]

English Bible expositor and evangelical churchman William Burkitt (1662-1703) states that by John saying here in verse one, “That which we have looked upon,” certainly exceeds “That which we saw.” To “see” involves a sudden transient act, but to “look upon” is a fixed and deliberate act, and usually a pleasing and delightful act; we looked upon Him as the rarest object, as the desire and the delight of our eyes.[17] We can make the same comparison between “reading” and “studying,” between “heard” and “hearing.”


[1] Œcumenius: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. XI, op. cit., p. 167

[2] Isho’dad of Merv: Bray, G. (Ed.), 1-3 John, op, cit., p. 167

[3] John 14:6

[4] Ibid. 1:18

[5] Isaiah 53:8

[6] Theophylact Bulgarian; Archbishop of Ohrid, Interpretation 7 of Epistles of Apostles Peter, John, and Jude (New Testament Scripture Interpretations) (Kindle Locations 2143-2160). Kindle Edition.

[7] Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection, Bk. 1, Part 3, p. 73

[8] John 3:16

[9] 1 Peter 2:6

[10] John 6:35-40

[11] William Tyndale: Expositions and Notes (1536), The University Press, Cambridge, Published by the Parker Society, pp. 145-146

[12] See Acts of the Apostles 17:30

[13] The Works of Mr. Hugh Binning, Printed by R. Fleming and Co., Edinburgh, 1735, p. 483

[14] Whitby was a controversial English theologian, Biblical commentator, and Arminian priest in the Church of England

[15] Cf. 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14; 2:24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 1:5, 6

[16] Daniel Whitby: Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament, Vol. VI, Printed by J. F. Dove, London, 1822, p. 421

[17] William Burkitt: Expository Notes with Practical Observations, on the New Testament, Vol. II, Published by James Dinnis, London, 1832, p. 753

About drbob76

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