NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
Chapter One (Lesson XI) 10/19/20
When examining quotes from the past, we find that the Latin or Greek manuscripts translated into English are hard to understand because of the early English grammar and vocabulary. But there is a great benefit when we read them slowly and look for the moral lesson. It takes patience, but it is worth it.
Greek story-teller Aesop (620-564 BC) shares an insightful story about a fox chased by hunting dogs, who came across a woodcutter cutting down an oak tree. The fox begged him to show him a safe place to hide. The Woodcutter advised him to take shelter in his nearby hut, so the Fox crept in and hid in a corner. The huntsman soon came up with his hounds and inquired of the woodcutter if he had seen the fox. He declared I haven’t him, while all the time was pointing and winking toward the hut where the Fox lay hidden. The huntsman took no notice of the signs, but believing his word, quickly went forward in the chase.
As soon as they were far enough away, the fox came out of the hut and trotted away without even looking at the Woodcutter. So, the Woodcutter called out to the fox and reprimanded him, saying, “You ungrateful fellow, you owe your life to me, and yet you leave me without a word of thanks.” The fox replied, “Indeed, I should have thanked you fervently if your deeds had been as good as your words, and if your hands had not been traitors to your speech.” The Apostle John knew there were many false teachers around already telling different stories about Jesus. So, John accuses them of the same thing; they were saying one thing but meaning another. However, John could say, “I knew Jesus; I walked with Him for over three years; you do not understand what you are teaching.” The same is true of us today. Some say they know Jesus, and yet they’ve never met Him.
Dionysius of Alexandria (248-264 AD) was the Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, during the third century. A convert to Christianity at a mature age, he led the Alexandrian Catechetical School before becoming the bishop of Alexandria. He was called Dionysius the Great by Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea In his arguments against Nepos’ writings, a bishop in Egypt (circa 200-250 AD) teaching that to understand promises given to holy men in the Scriptures, it must be from the Jewish perspective. He affirmed that there would be some kind of a millennial period, filled with imagined delights, upon this earth. Dionysius makes a comment, that “The evangelist, on the other hand, did not attach his name to this catholic epistle; but without any hesitation commenced at once with the mystery of the divine revelation itself in these terms: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes.”
Caius (275-350 AD), a Presbyter of Rome and Christian author who lived at the end of the 2nd century AD and beginning of the 3rd century AD, in a fragment of his writings makes this claim: “There is no difference as regards the faith of believers since all of them are related under one majestic Spirit, which concerns the Lord’s incarnation, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent,— the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these things so consistently in his epistles, saying of his own experience, what we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written. He professes himself not only to be an eye-witness but also a hearer, and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord as they happened.”
Add to this what Christian theologian Didymus the Blind of the Coptic Church in Alexandria (313-398 AD) has to say. He writes: “There is an important difference between seeing and contemplating. For what people see can be told to others, which is not always the case with things contemplated.” Didymus goes on to say that many think these words here in verse one apply to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. They say that John is speaking of himself and the other disciples who first of all heard that the Lord had risen and afterward saw Him with their own eyes, to the point where they touched His feet, His hands, His side, and felt the imprint of the nails. Even if Thomas was the only one who made physical contact with him, he was representative of the others, for the Savior told them all to touch Him and see for themselves.
But others, says Didymus, take these words in a deeper sense, noting that they do not merely speak about touching but also about handling the “Word of life which was from the beginning.” Who can this refer to, other than to the One who said: “I Am that I Am”? Another interpretation is that we have now openly seen with our own eyes the one who was “at the beginning,” of whom the Law and the prophets spoke, saying that He would come. He arrived seen in the flesh, and the scriptural texts bear witness to him; this is what we believe about the Word of life.
And Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), in one of his sermons on this text, made this comment: “Well then, the Life was manifested in the flesh because it was exhibited, so that which we can only see by the heart, should be seen by the eyes also, that it might heal the hearts. For only by the heart is the Word seen: but the flesh is seen by the bodily eyes also. We had what was needed to see the flesh, but did not have what was needed to see the Word: the Word was made flesh, so we might see the Word by being healed.” To this, we can add what one current commentator had to say in echoing Augustine’s thought. He writes: “Jesus’ incarnation is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Embracing this historical Jesus and continuing to bear witness to Him (seeing/touching/hearing) should be at the center of our lives together. Jesus Christ as God-in-flesh cannot be marginalized.”
Augustine also has an interesting comment here on what John says in verse two. Perhaps, he says, some of the believers who are not acquainted with the Greek noun martyrs, translated as “witnesses.” It is a term used by all Greek and Final Covenant writers in religious reverence. In my [Augustine’s] language [Latin], we call them witnesses. Now, where is the person that never heard of martyrs, or where is the Christian who never spoke the word martyrs? And where is the believer who is also not committed to being a martyr for the cause of God’s Kingdom and the message of salvation to a lost and dying world?
Well, John did not have any problem announcing that he and the others have seen and are witnesses, is like saying, we have seen and are martyrs. It was for bearing witness of that which they saw, bearing witness of that which they heard from them who did see, that, while their testimony itself displeased the men they delivered it to, the martyrs gladly bore all they suffered. The martyrs are God’s witnesses. It pleased God to have humans for His witnesses, that others also may have God to be their witness. And as we know from Church history, all but John died as martyrs for the sake of the Anointed One.
Vincent of Lérins (390-456 AD) comments on what the Apostle John said “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 the life,” proves that old testimonies confirmed by new testaments are as ancient prophecies confirmed by contemporary preaching. As the prophet Isaiah said: “Stop relying on humans, in whose nostrils is a mere breath – after all, they don’t count for much, do they?” That’s why John says: we’ve seen Him, we’ve heard Him, we’ve touched Him. What was once part of the Messiah’s mission was now part of the Messiah’s message.
Isaiah also tells us that as humans, the Jews would inflict whippings and wounds on the Messiah, but John declared that He was touched by human hands dispensing healing. Isaiah proclaimed that the Son of God would become the son of man. It is clear then, says Lérins, they both show the Lord Jesus the Anointed One to be both God and man; and that the same person who became man had always been God, and thus He was God and man because God Himself became man.
What perplexed Lérins the most was that some could not comprehend that He, who was invisible from the beginning, was now seen in the flesh. He was not a phantom as the Marcionites and Manicheans claimed. John declared that He was real. The Word made flesh and came to live among us. The author of Hebrews proclaims: “Jesus the Anointed One is the same yesterday, today and forever.” In other words, the same person who existed before the commencement of the world is the same person who will go on living when the world ends; Jesus is the same in the present as He was in the past, for He is the same through all the ages, as He was before all the ages. And all this is seen in the incarnate Lord Jesus the Anointed One.
 Aesop’s Fables, Books for the Ages, AGES Software, Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1997, p. 51
 Dionysius: From the Two Books on the Promises, I:4
 Caius: Canon Muratorianus, Part 1
 Didymus the Blind: Ancient Christian Commentary, loc. cit., p. 167
 Luke 24:10
 Exodus 3:14
 Didymus the Blind: On 1 John, Bray (Ed.), op. cit., loc. cit.
 The word Logos is the term by which Christian theology in the Greek language designates the Word of God, or Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Before John consecrated this term by adopting it, the Greeks and the Jews used it to express religious conceptions which, under various titles, exercised a certain influence on Christian theology, and of which it is necessary to say something. (Cf. Genesis 1:3; Psalm 32:9)
 Fathers of the Church: Augustine of Hippo, Homily on the First Epistle of John
 Burge, Gary M., The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, op. cit., p. 56
 Augustine, op. cit.
 Isaiah 2:22 – Complete Jewish Bible
 Isaiah 53
 Hebrews 13:8
 The Seven Books of John Cassian on the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11, Bk. 5, Ch. 6, pp. 1173-1174