WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XIV) 10/22/20

Let us make this a little clearer by comparing various translations:

WYCLIFFE PURVEY VERSION (1384)TYNDALE VERSION (1526)  KING JAMES VERSION (1611)ENGLISH REVISED VERSION (1885)AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION (1901)
That thing that was from the beginning [Which thing was from the beginning], which we heard, which we saw with our eyes, which we beheld, and our hands touched, of the word of life;That which was from the begynninge concerninge which we have hearde which we have sene with oure eyes which we have loked vpon and oure hondes have hadled of the worde of life. 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 life;It was there from the beginning; we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our own hands: our theme is the Word which gives life. That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life.
     
REVISED STANDARD VERSION (1946)NEW ENGLISH BIBLE (1961)NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (1971)NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (1973)ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION (2001)
That was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we gazed upon and our hands handled, concerning the word of life. It was there from the beginning, we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our own hands; and it is of this we tell. Our theme is the word of life. What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.

This difference of treatment appears in the older English versions. It has its origin solely in taste or convenience, not at all in the Greek Text. It is objectionable because it limits that which was from the beginning to what John heard. In other words, it implies that which “was heard” did not exist before the beginning. It also goes for what was seen and touched. It was the manifestation of the pre-existing Son of God before He and His Gospel was ever preached.

To make this even more apparent, if we read the ESV, it means that what John revealed as something he saw and was a witness to, so that he could proclaim the eternal Father and made manifest to him and the other disciples are something “which was.” So, the next question is, what happened to Him? As Bishop Archibald Robertson (1863-1934), who served as Principal of King’s College, London and was elected to serve as Vice-Chancellor of the University of London,  puts it, strictly speaking, the neuter relative here is not personal.[1] But by looking at the RSV, John is telling us that the life which appeared to him, that he saw and witnessed, is what he is now pointing out is the Eternal Life which at one time was only with the Father but presented to him and the other apostles. So, there is no question of what happened to Him, but where is He? And that makes it very personal.[2]

Philip Mauro (1859-1952) says that none is more significant of the many statements that the Bible makes concerning God’s Word. Indeed, none is of greater importance to dying sinners than the truth that the Word of God is a LIVING WORD. In Philippians, we have the expression, “The Word of Life,”[3] which is the same expression utilized here in verse one. John uses it here of Jesus the Anointed One, the Incarnate Word, whereas, in Philippians, it is the WRITTEN WORD of which Paul speaks. The WRITTEN WORD and the INCARNATE WORD are identified in Scripture so that it is not always clear to which it refers.

We hear the same things said of each, and the same characteristics attributed respectively. The fundamental resemblance lies in the fact that each is the tangible expression of the Invisible God. As the written or spoken word expresses communication, the invisible and inaccessible concept, so Jesus the Anointed One as the Incarnate Word, and the Holy Scriptures as the Written Word, express and share knowledge of the invisible and inaccessible God. “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.” “Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.”[4] [5]

James Morgan (1859-1942) focuses on the fact that this Being, the Anointed One, who was from eternity, became human. The assertion is a contrast to the preceding one. It confirms the view taken of the former; for it is clear the Apostle wishes to convey the idea that it was a marvelous thing that He should appear as a man who had been from the beginning, from eternity. Strange, however, as it was, it was true. There is more than enough evidence to back up this truth. The ears of men heard Him; their eyes saw Him; their hands felt Him. Clearer or surer proof could neither be asked nor given. The expression, “our hands have handled,” refers no doubt to the words of the Anointed One after His resurrection – “Look at My hands and my feet. It is I Myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see, I have.”[6]

It is a happy suggestion, says Morgan. The Anointed One’s nature that He took when He was born of Mary, He lifted out of the grave at His resurrection. Therefore, we have a Savior who not merely became a man but wears his glorified humanity in heaven. His incarnation is thus associated with the redemption of man. He took our nature, stood in for us, and took possession of heaven as our inheritance. Therefore, we have everything in His eternity and deity to inspire our confidence; we are assured of His sympathy by His humanity. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.”[7] Nothing is lacking in Him; He is a suitable and sufficient Savior. He accounts for “all our salvation” and “all our longing.”[8]

G. K. Chesterton (1884-1936), an English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic, wrote about St. Francis of Assisi. He responded to a horrified bishop about the living conditions of the Little Brothers at Portiuncula.[9] He complained that they existed without comforts, possessions, eating anything they could get, and sleeping on the ground. Chesterton said that St. Francis answered him with “curious and almost stunning shrewdness which the unworldly can sometimes wield like a club of stone.”[10]

Similarly, the Apostle John speaks the truth with such simplicity, clarity, and boldness that it often shakes the reader. A person who hates their brother is a murderer! If you don’t love others, you don’t know God! I love the way Lawrence R. Farley puts it: This beloved disciple writes compellingly of love, and the starkness of the truth hits us like a club of stone. It provides a much-needed blow, for it can knock the lethal self-delusions out of our heads.[11]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) says that one writing in the Final Covenant is not formally recognized as poetic. And that is John’s First Epistle. When one attentively reads this letter, they are struck by the recurrent features of balanced phrasing. He points to verse one. It features an opening statement followed by several rhetorical phrases:

                                                That which was from the beginning,

                                                            Which we have heard and seen with our eyes

                                                Which we have looked at

And our hands have touched

In his explanation of this verse, Wilder states that the Greek tense of the last two verbs, looked at and touched, reinforces their emphasis on actual personal observations, preceding the different verbs of heard and seen. They bring out the continuing significance of the witnessed facts. Those who heard and saw remain impacted by the experience and qualify as genuine witnesses.[12] Let us compare this to what Ananias said to Paul in Damascus after his conversion, “You will be His witness to all people, telling them about what you have seen and heard.”[13] And then we have Paul’s words, “I am an apostle, God’s messenger, responsible to no mere man. I am one who has seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes.”[14] Of course, we know that Paul conversed with and heard the Lord at that same time.[15] So what does it take to be a witness? Having contact with the Lord by His Spirit and hearing Him speak through His Word.[16]


[1] Robertson, Archibald: Word Pictures in the New Testament, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, P. 1941

[2] Revised English Scriptures with Notes: The Second Epistle of Peter the Epistles of John and Judas and the Revelation, American Bible Union, New York, 1854, p. 27

[3] Philippians 2:16

[4] John 14:9, 11

[5] Mauro, Philip: Life in the Word, The Fundamentals, R. A. Torrey (Ed,) Vol. 2, Ch. 7, p. 125-126

[6] Luke 24:39

[7] Hebrews 4:15

[8] Morgan, James: An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1865, pp. 6–7

[9] Portiuncula was a small Catholic church located about 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) from Assisi, Umbria (central Italy). 

[10] Chesterton, G. K., St. Francis of Assisi, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, London, 1923, p. 115

[11] Farley, Lawrence R., Universal Truth: The Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, Jude, and John (Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series) (Kindle Locations 2309-2310). Ancient Faith Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

[12] Acts of the Apostles 4:20

[13] Ibid. 22:15

[14] 1 Corinthians 9:1

[15] Acts of the Apostles 9:3-6

[16] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, Abingdon, Nashville, 1957, pp. 217-218

About drbob76

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