WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XII) 10/20/20

So, it appears quite clear that the Epistle of John had a significant effect on early Christian scholars’ hearts and minds. Given this impact, it undoubtedly led to what Severus, a Greek monk-theologian of Antioch (465-538 AD), repeated that John also said, “No one has ever seen God,”[1] so how can he assure us that the living Word of life was seen and touched? Clearly, it was in the human form that made Him visible and touchable.[2]

When we share our testimony, how can we get the door to an unbeliever or doubter’s mind to open?  One way would be to knock! So how do we knock? By making it possible to include Jesus in every answer to any question, they may ask us. It’s almost like what Jesus said to Thomas, “Touch the scar in my hand with your finger. Feel the scar here in my side with your hands. Stop doubting and believe.”[3]

That’s how John felt, so he tells his readers, We watched Him perform miracles and touched[4] Him with our hands.  Bible scholar Origen of Alexandria, Egypt (184-253 AD) already knew about this epistle by John because he quoted from it in several places. In his manuscript, he spoke out against Celsus’ charges, an anti-Christian Greek philosopher (circa 177 AD). Origen is giving examples of how humanity perceived God through visions and voices from above; he then adds: “And by a sense of touch, by which John says that he ‘handled with his hands of the Word of life.‘”[5]

Œcumenius (circa 700-800AD) believes that John wrote this first verse against both the Jews and the Greeks because they were protesting that the mystery which appeared among them was too new to be taken seriously. John, therefore, answers them by saying that, in fact, it is very old and has been there from the beginning. It is superior to the Law and even surpasses creation itself because while creation has a beginning, “the Life” already existed.[6] It is hard for people today to accept, especially those who believe that the universe resulted from a chance cosmic explosion of gases. The problem is they don’t know from where these gasses originated.

I like the way Johann A. Bengel (1687-1752), German Lutheran theologian and biblical scholar,  the founder of the Swabian[7] holiness movement and a pioneer in the critical exegesis of the Final Covenant, puts it: “He gave Himself in the flesh to our eyes, ears, and hands.[8]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926), Church of England clergyman and biblical scholar, adds that the similarity of the opening of John’s Epistle to the introduction of John’s Gospel is obvious: but the thought is somewhat different. In the Gospel, the Word existed before Creation; here in the Epistle, the Word existed before the Incarnation. Plummer says, the Socinian’s[9] interpretation, “that which” means the doctrine of Jesus, and not the Incarnate Word, cannot be defended: the verbs, “have seen,” “beheld,” “handled,” are fatal to it. In using the neuter. John takes the most comprehensive expression to cover the attributes, words, and works of the Word and the Life manifested in the flesh.[10]

William Lincoln (1825-1888) points out that there are four verbs used here: “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 life.” It copies the Psalmist’s use of parallelisms to enhance a point. Here, we have a sandwich parallel:

We have heard

     We have seen

     We have looked upon

We have handled

If you analyze this, you will see the Lord Jesus the Anointed One draws nearer to us, not we who are drawing closer to Him. Lincoln goes on to explain that “heard,” even from a distance before you can see them. “Seen” represents a nearer place within sight.

But that is not enough, John says, “with our very own eyes.” “Looked upon” means to contemplate attentively. The more you look at Him, the more you see the glories which are in Him. “Handled” is instead a peculiar term. It is doubtless in allusion to what John says in his Gospel[11] about Mary Magdalene “handling Him.” This epistle of John begins where the Gospel leaves off. Did you ever observe in the Gospel of John where it starts with the Anointed One in the Father’s bosom, and at the end of the Gospel, a sinner is seen in the bosom of the Anointed One, showing us where our Father would have us be?”[12]

Influential English scholar Thomas Scott (1749-1821)[13] notes that the Apostle began this epistle, in the same abrupt manner as he did his Gospel, and without any particular address or salutation, and he wrote as a witness or a messenger, in a censoring declaration style, and not in an argumentative manner. That essential good, that uncreated and self-existent excellency, which were from the beginning, as coequal and co-eternal with the Father, and finally appeared in human form for the salvation of sinners. It was the main subject concerning what the Apostle wrote to his brethren. If we then understand John to mean the Anointed One as the Son of God, it must be from the beginning, which denotes from eternity for if the creation and time were coequal, that which was from the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth must have also been eternal.[14]

Charles Simeon (1760-1851) confesses that it is impossible to read these words and not be impacted by the Apostle’s earnestness in his mode of giving the testimony before us. Somebody must have challenged the truth of John affirms. The evidence on which they rested their case John calls into question. And the fact was that many heresies had arisen even while the Anointed One was still alive. Some went so far as to deny Jesus ever died and rose again. They asserted that all those transactions, which the Evangelists recorded, took place in appearance only, and not in reality.

Against such absurd and condescending conceits, the Apostle John, now at a very advanced age, maintained his testimony with a zeal suited to the occasion. He was the only surviving witness of the events to which he refers. Hence, John repeats the evidence he had, again and again, respecting the validity of all that he affirmed. He urges the whole Christian Church to receive his testimony by representing the incalculable benefits given to all who believe.[15]

Johann Eduard Huther (1807-1880) looks at the opening, “That which was from the beginning,” which is unlimited in itself, is more fully explained by the following relative clauses to this extent, that “that which was from the beginning” is identical with that which was the subject of perception by the Apostle’s senses of hearing, seeing, and touching. In other words, the appearance of the Anointed One to the disciples was not an apparition or abstraction, but as a real person. Huther says that some interpret John’s words to imply what the Apostle John witnessed were that which from eternity appeared in the Anointed One. But Huther disagrees and joins other scholars in saying it did not represent the Anointed One but that He was the Life and the Light.[16]

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) was a professor of Ancient Languages at Wesleyan University, studied law, and had some pastoral experience. He was editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review, a scholarly theological magazine, for more than twenty years. He wrote a commentary on the entire New Testament. Here in John’s first letter, he points out that the Apostle uses the Greek perfect tense of the first two verbs, have heard and have seen; but the aorist tense,[17] without the words [we have], looked upon and handled. It is a significant change of tense, lost in our English translation. It indicates that the Apostles have seen and have heard, which remains in effect as a permanent fact. But they also specifically and at the moment looked upon, that is, contemplated and the inner nature intensely studied to appreciate the bodily substance of the Lord profoundly. This specialty is enhanced by how the first was done with physical eyes, not dreams, and the last with hands, the surest instruments of touch. Though He was from the beginning and was indeed the Word of life, He submitted Himself to bodily perception to share his determinate personality.[18]


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

[2] Severus of Antioch: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Volume XI, Edited by Gerald Bray, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, loc. cit., p. 166

[3] John. 20:27

[4] C. Haas, M. de Jong, and J. L. Swellengrebel: In a Handbook on the Letters of John, United Bible Societies (UBS), Translation Notes on 1 John, they note: “Therefore ‘and which we ourselves (actually) have touched’ is a perfectly legitimate rendering of the clause. Such a rendering will be especially useful where the combination ‘to touch with the hands’ would be unduly redundant.” 

[5] Origen: Contra Celsus, Bk 1, Ch. XLVIII, (See also Book 7, Ch. XXXIV)

[6] Œcumenius: on 1 John, Bray, G. (Ed.)., op. cit., p. 167

[7] Swabia is a province in central Germany that includes the city of Stuttgart, near where I once lived

[8] Bengel John Albert: Gnomon of the New Testament, Vol. II, Perkinpine & Higgins, Philadelphia, 1862, p. 788

[9] 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.

[10] Plummer, Alfred E.: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Epistles of John, Cambridge University Press, 1892, p. 72

[11] John 20:17

[12] Lincoln, William., Lectures on the Epistles of St. John, J. F. Shaw & Co., London, 1871, pp. 10–11

[13] Thomas Scott was a minister and author, principally known for his best-selling works, A Commentary on The Whole Bible and The Force of Truth, and as one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society.

[14] Scott, Thomas: With explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. VI, James Nisbet and Co, London 1866, p. 481

[15] Simeon, Charles: Horæ Homileticæ, Discourses, Vol. XX, James to Jude, 6th Edition, Henry G. Bohn, London, 1844, p. 356

[16] Huther, Johann Eduard: Hand Book on the General Epistles, op. cit., p 468

[17] The aorist tense expresses action without indicating it completion or continuation such as “I walked.”

[18] Whedon, Daniel D. Commentary on the NT, Vol. 5, Jennings & Graham, New York, 1880, p. 253

About drbob76

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