WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XV) 10/23/20

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000), in his exposition on this first verse, calls the opening “A Christian Manifesto.” He suggests starting with verse three, followed by verse one, with verse three being an afterthought. That way, you declare what John’s purpose was for writing the epistle, what he was planning to proclaim in the letter, and evidence that he was qualified to do so. He wanted everyone to know and remind the believers that his message concerned God’s reality revealed in the Anointed One. So, there was no need to listen to the heresies and misinterpretation of facts and false doctrines going around at that time. There is no need to be fooled when you have all the evidence you need to prove your point.[1]

Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) says that if you look up the word propitiation in the dictionary, you may get the wrong idea of its meaning. The definition we find says, “to appease someone who is angry.” If we apply this to the Anointed One, we see an angry God about to destroy the world and a loving Son of God, giving Himself to appease His irate Father in heaven. It is not the Bible’s picture of salvation! Yes, God is angry at sin more than He is at the sinner. Otherwise, we would not have John 3:16.  Propitiation means the satisfying of God’s holy Law. That’s why the Anointed One came as the Light to open our eyes to sin. God is love, not hate, and wants to save all sinners who accept His Son as their redeemer. That, says John, is what Jesus did on the cross at Calvary.[2]

I like the way Hawley and Comfort (1930-) stress the poetic style of the first three verses:

            As to what was from the beginning

            as to what we have heard

            as to what we have seen with our eyes

            and what we have gazed upon

            and as to what we have touched

            it is the Word of life.

John’s experience was so life-changing and so memorable that he used four perfect tense verbs to convey the idea that the Apostles’ experiences with the God-man, the incarnate Son of God, was still vivid and present with them. Should this not be the same with all born-again believers? When humanity touched divinity, and the outcome was the same as the incarnation. We changed from being children of humans into children of God.[3]

We add what Scottish New Testament scholar, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015), said on this subject. He tells us that “What the writer [John] states most emphatically of all is that certain people can testify to these facts because they had a personal experience with Jesus. They heard and saw Him, they even touched Him, and they say in Him was the incarnation of divine life. There cannot be any real doubt that the writer claims to have been an eyewitness of the earthly ministry of Jesus.”[4] As mentioned before, John felt inspired to write this letter because of Gnosticism’s growing influence gaining attention in his day.

John Painter (1935-) says that verse one concentrates on the topic of life while verse two elaborates on the theme of Life. It reveals Everlasting Life. It spells out the implications of the Word of Life. Reveal is a more comprehensive image than Word because the Word was not only heard; He was seen and handled. The manifested Life is the source of the Everlasting life that is at the heart of the purpose of John’s First Epistle.[5] When this happens, we go from racing on our time to running on God’s time.

Dr. Wayne Allan Barber (1943-2016), the longtime pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN, gives us some insight into Gnosticism and its effect upon believers during John’s ministry. He tells us that Gnosticism was one of the most significant threats to the Gospel during that era. It was in several forms, and it is challenging to describe it in its full sense because it depends on the sect you were dealing with and exactly which direction they went with it.

No matter what factions you’ve dealt with, says Barber, Gnostics say saved individuals result from their knowledge of God rather than Jesus’ work on their behalf on the cross. Some mysterious transformation takes place to gain this knowledge. It would be best if you were taught; you cannot find it on your own. A form of Gnosticism is alive today in some churches where people believe they become children of God by way of some rite or ritual – such as baptism or going through catechism. Back then, it involved a myth that once you had a revelation of this knowledge, that brought you into what they called a salvation experience. Salvation was in knowing. Jesus was not necessary for the picture because He didn’t die. He wasn’t the “propitiation” for our sins. You see, the Gnostics believed that all flesh was evil; therefore, God would never have inhabited a human body. Jesus came and died, but He was strictly the physical, natural son of Joseph. He was not truly the Son of God.

The particular brand of  Gnosticism that John is dealing with came from a man named Cerenthus, who said that Jesus was the natural-born son of Joseph, and one day, at His baptism, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the heavenly Spirit of a deity known as God’s Son, came and indwelt Him and lived in Him until right before the crucifixion. Then it departed from Him. Therefore, Jesus, when He died on the cross, died as a confused human, and poor, misfortunate creature![6]

William R. Loader (1944) says that the opening of this epistle makes two things very clear. It represents the emotional issues at stake among believers. On a personal level, joy and pain are critical. It is not an exercise in speculation; it requires pastoral care. And secondly, the heart of that concern is the community – shared Christian life. This community life is with God through the Anointed One and especially the community of Christians with one another, and the two are inseparable.[7]

Judith Lieu (1951) sees this epistle’s opening, sounding two notes that will echo throughout the argument. They are “the beginning” to that which is already assured and appeal to “we” and to “our” experience. At this point, says Lieu, the ability to relate to “the beginning” apparently characterizes the “we,” the voices of the Apostles heard here. Later, John will command his readers to recall what they had from the beginning and continue to live by those principles.[8] Dr. Lieu points out that John’s messaged drew from that which came from the beginning and passed it on to those who were joining God’s family for the future. Things said from the beginning of time apply to every new-born believer and will be their guide for the rest of their lives.[9]

We see this same reasoning today in the word “revival.” Some think that it involves an evangelistic campaign. But the name itself reveals its properties: Revival is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation. Revivals restore believers and the church to a previous vital and vibrant relationship with God after a period of moral decline. I would say that for earnest believers, their prayer is, “O Lord, send a revival now and let it begin in me!

Current Bible writer and pastor David Guzik feels that by using the Logos’ idea – the Word – it was important for John to explore his day’s Greek and Jewish literature. For the Jew, God was often referred to as the Word because they knew God perfectly revealed Himself in His Word. Greek philosophers have spoken for centuries about the Logos – the basis for organization and intelligence in the universe, the Ultimate Reason, which controls all things. It is as if John said to everyone, “This Logos you have been talking about and writing about for centuries – well, we have heard Him, seen Him, studied Him, and touched Him. Now, let me now tell you about Him.” I like the way Guzik puts it:  John wrote, it is not the beginning of this world, nor is it the beginning of creation. It is the beginning revealed in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. Before there was anything, this beginning existed, to begin with when all that existed was God and in God.[10]


[1] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, Abingdon, Nashville, 1957, p. 216

[2] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real (1 John): Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), pp. 40-41

[3] Hawley, Wendell C., Comfort, Philip W., op. cit., pp. 330-331

[4] The Epistles of John, I. Howard Marshall, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, loc. cit., p. 106

[5] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18 (Kindle Locations 3223-3346). Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition

[6] Sermons by Wayne Barber: loc. cit.

[7] Loader, William: Epworth Commentaries, The Johannine Epistles, Epworth Press, London, 1992, p. 3

[8] See 2:24; cf. 3:11

[9] Lieu, Judith, The New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2008, pp. 37-38

[10] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, loc. cit.

About drbob76

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