WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

INTRODUCTION (Lesson VIII) 10/14/20

William Kelly (1822-1888) also draws attention to the term, “The Word of Life.” It is, indeed, closely connected with the main object of the Epistle. Still, when the Apostle John first mentions it, the reader will have very little preparation without reading the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Suddenly, John introduces us to the unique, divine theme that the Holy Spirit stooped down to take up and give us. Can we not see that in John’s testimony of the Lord having been heard, seen, and touched, he begins by calling Him the Eternal Word in human form? The Word of Life is at once ushered before the believer’s eyes to see and comprehend.

Could any other question show the reverence that filled the Apostle’s heart more clearly, or that is due from ours? But here we begin, remarkable to say, with the “Human/Divine Word of Life,” and, it may be added, as another thing of importance, the “Human/Divine Word of Life Man” not in the heavens but on the earth. The glorified Man on the throne of God above has great significance with the Apostle Paul. Here, on the other hand, the most excellent possible care is taken first to present the Word when He walked here below, not before He became flesh, as is done in verse two, nor after He died and rose again, as elsewhere in the Epistle. Those positions or states of our Lord appear appropriately in their place. Still, here John is treating eternal life manifested on earth with its just and full proofs, and its importance for sharing brotherhood and sisterhood with the Father and the Son, to the fullness of joy of all who share it in the grace of God. Hence, he immediately brings us to hear the Word of Life report as the disciples saw and heard Him on the earth.[1]

Chancellor of Llandaff Anglican Cathedral in Cardiff, Wales, and Lecturer in Divinity at the University of Cambridge, John James Lias (1834-1923), hears the Apostle John say: We declare to you what was the fact about Him from the beginning.[2] Lias goes on to say that the word spoken must be for others to hear. It would be useless to tell it otherwise. Therefore, the Word of God must be spoken, must be the revelation of God, that is, to all to whom He has given ears to hear it, to all humanity. It is its essential character to be disbursed and distributed. With it being in us at all, it cannot remain hidden within our hearts. It must burn; it must yearn to communicate itself to others. According to our circumstances and opportunities, we cannot rest without endeavoring to bring others to the knowledge of what we know. If no such passionate feeling exists, we have not yet appropriated the Word of Life by faith. If we have, we must, in our way, feel with Paul that “necessity is laid upon us, yes, Woe unto us if we preach not the Gospel.”[3]

Our call, says Lias, is in various ways. Some have the humble privilege of mentoring relatives and friends to live in union with the Anointed One. Some have a broader influence over scholars, or laity, or dependents. Furthermore, some persons of education and position have an even wider sphere. Then others undertake to mentor the young, evangelizing the lost and dying world, or reclaiming the backslidden. Some, again, are full-time ministers of the Anointed One, some are His evangelists to the unreached. But all in their appointed place must impart to others the knowledge they have received.[4] If you have the fire in your soul of spreading your testimony when God gives you the opportunity, remember, each day lost in sharing what the Holy Spirit put in your heart may be another soul lost to salvation through grace.

John was not interested in fiction or fairy tales; he wanted his readers to know the facts about the Anointed One’s existence before humans could measure it. With this in mind, Lias asks: Has not a life outside of us been communicated internally to us? Some would have us believe that all the Anointed One did for us was to set an example. It is the Socinian theory.[5] So far as it may be true, we gladly accept it. But did not Benjamin Franklin warn us that “a truth which is half a truth is the greatest lie of all,[6] Does Socinianism place us in the most dangerous of half-truths? We must not forget that the Final Covenant does not fail to proclaim with the utmost emphasis, that the life of the Anointed One is not merely an example offered to us, but a principle implanted in us. Our Authorized Version (KJV) of the Bible obscures this truth sometimes, says Lias, by rendering (as in Romans 6:23) the Greek preposition n with the English word through. In the Epistle, however, as in the Gospel, the more accurate rendering of “in” is maintained. In John’s Gospel, we find this truth articulated throughout, especially in chapters 6,[7] 7,[8] and 17.[9] We see it in this Epistle with ever-increasing definiteness.[10] Nor is it absent from our version of Paul’s Epistles.[11]

It is communicated to us by specific means, says Lias. The one primary means is faith, without which all other means are useless. Faith is the medium whereby we place ourselves in rhythm with the divine impulse. Faith is the electric wire which connects heaven with earth and makes our lives sensitive and responsive to influences from above. Without trust, what we know as the means of grace is like the telegraph when the electric current is absent – dead, lifeless machinery. Yet without these means, electric current would not be able to make itself felt. And so, without the means, the Anointed One blessed, faith itself would fail to exert its influence. And these means are threefold, prayer, sacraments, and the study of God’s revelations.[12]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) sees verse three as the beginning of this dissertation. John says: We announce to you what we have seen and heard because we want you also to have fellowship with us. Our camaraderie is with God the Father and with his Son, Jesus the Anointed One. Then go back to verse two and then verse one. It helps clear up the disrupted construction. In any case, says Bultmann, the fact that the subject matter and person are identical becomes evident by the end of verse three.[13] In other words, the One John is proclaiming, the One who existed from the beginning, the One they heard, saw and touched, the Word of Life, the One manifested, the One who is eternal life, the One they are a friend with is the same Jesus the Anointed One. He is all in One, and One in all.  

Clement Clemance (1845-1886) comments on Dr. Alfred Edersheim’s remark concerning the Church’s learning of the Anointed One by saying it involves two great states in history. Here is what Dr. Edersheim, a converted Jew, admitted, is not easy to understand what the disciples expected when they awakened the Anointed One on the ship with their Hosanna cry of “Lord, save us – or we perish!” Indeed, that’s not what happened; it wasn’t only amazement that came over them but also awed reverence as they witnessed His presence on earth. It is quite probable that their witness would be a vague, undefined belief in the unlimited possibility of the eternal Anointed One. A view which seems to us quite natural as we think of it as gradually emerging while partially capped by the height of His Divinity, of which, as yet, only appeared visible to them as dim an outline. It accounts for the lack of complete comprehension characterized by the Son of God’s bearing by a Virgin, and equally illustrated by the disciples on Resurrection-morning inspecting the empty tomb, filling them with incredulous wonder that the tomb was vacant.

This brings us to that stage in history, says Clemance, when there was opposition from His enemies regarding His claim of being the Son of God.  Neither could anyone comprehend His Teaching nor His ministry until understanding His personality – He is of God, the Living God. We gradually reach toward the convenience and the need for the Holy Spirit’s coming to reveal His person’s mystery more clearly. Similarly, the two significant stages in the history of the Church’s learning what He did; the second – to come to an experience of what He did and does by knowing what He is. We see the first stage in the First Covenant in the history of Israel, and the second stage corresponds to the Final Covenant when Jesus was on earth up to His Ascension into Heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.[14]

And there is also an intermediate truth, says Edersheim, with which we are gravely concerned. It involves the fact John reminds us of at the opening of this Epistle. Through this process, we pass on to the second stage of the writings of those who passed through earlier. John carries out its intended effect by this inspired letter. There is no doubt the Apostle John wrote this letter, the same John who authored the Gospel.

Philip Mauro (1859-1952) was an American lawyer who practiced before the Supreme Court, a patent lawyer, and a Christian writer. He points out that of the many statements that the Bible makes concerning God’s Word, none is more significant, and indeed none is of greater importance to dying sinners than the belief that the Word of God is a LIVING WORD. In Philippians, we have the expression, “The Word of Life.”[15] It is employed here by the Apostle John in verse one of Jesus the Anointed One, the Incarnate Word, whereas it is used by the Apostle Paul when referring to the Written Word. The Written Word and the Incarnate Word are spoken of in Scripture in ways that are not always clear.


[1] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, Published by T. Weston, London, 1905, pp. 5-6

[2] Lias, John J., The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, James Nisbet & Co., London, 1887, p. 10

[3] 1 Corinthians 9:16

[4] Lias, J. J. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, London: James Nisbet & Co., 1887, pp. 22-24

[5] Socinianism is an unorthodox form of non-trinitarianism that was developed around the same time as the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) by Italian humanist Lelio Sozzini and later promulgated by his cousin, Fausto Sozzini. In modern times Socinianism has been referred to as psilanthropism, the view that Jesus was merely human (from the Greek psilo meaning “merely/only” and anthropos meaning “man/human being”), a view rejected by the First Council of Nicaea.

[6] 1758 Poor Richard’s Almanack, p. 89

[7] See John 6:10, 31, 39, 45, 49, 53, 56, 59, 61

[8] Ibid. 7:1, 4, 9-12, 18, 22, 23, 28, 37, 43

[9] Ibid. 17:10-13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26

[10] Cf. 1 John 4:4, 15, 16; 5:11, 12, 20

[11] See Ephesians 1:23, 5:30; Col. 1:27, 3:3

[12] Lias, John J, The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 13–17

[13] Bultmann, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 7-8

[14] Edersheim, Alfred: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1, Bk. 3, Ch. 24, 1883, p. 525

[15] Philippians 2:16

About drbob76

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