WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XVII) 10/27/20

English Anglican Bible scholar John Trapp (1601-1669) asks, “What is surer than sight?”[1] And seeing the Messiah was denied many kings and prophets.[2] Having seen the Anointed One in the flesh was one of the three things that St. Augustine wished, yet Paul set no such high price upon it than his spiritual sight.[3] But, as he says here, the Apostle John was one of the blessed ones given that honor and privilege.[4] Yet, says John, we will not be left out because one day, we will all see Him as He is.[5]

John Owen (1616-1683) was by common consent the most significant Puritan theologian of his day. Many would bracket him with Jonathan Edwards as one of the greatest Reformed theologians of all time. What the Apostle John said here was the Apostles’ testimony concerning the Anointed One when He dwelt among them in the days of His incarnation. They saw “His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”[6] Divine magnificence was manifest in Him, and in Him, they saw the splendor of the Father. So, the same Apostle witnesses again, who recorded this testimony: “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us.[7] In the Son incarnate, eternal life initially in and with the Father was demonstrated in us.[8]

Anglican Biblical scholar and theologian Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) speaks of “life” in the present and the future.  It is already; spoken of as “everlasting life” to distinguish it from everyday life, life in the sense of time under which humans exist and succeed. Proof of such life phenomena may be “death.”[9] But “everlasting life” is beyond the limitations of time: it belongs to the being of God and finds its fulfillment in the transforming vision of the Son seen as He is.[10] For us now, therefore, it is spoken of as both present and future. The “life everlasting” is essentially present, so far as it is the potential present completion in humanity.[11] Possession of life becomes a matter of actual knowledge in light of the ever-present fear of death.[12] However, this thought of the current reality of’ his version of eternal life is characteristic of John and peculiar to him.[13] [14]

Philip Mauro (1859-1952) points out that the incarnate Word and the written Word are both “living.” Of the many declarations which the Bible makes concerning the Word of God, none is more significant, and indeed none is of greater importance to dying humanity, than the statement that the Word of God is a LIVING WORD. In Philippians, we have the expression, “The Word of Life.”[15] The same phrase occurs here in verse one. It is used of Jesus the Anointed One, the Incarnate Word,[16] whereas in Philippians, speaks of the Written Word.

As referred to in Scripture, says Mauro, the Written Word and the Incarnate Word are not always clearly distinguished. Bible writers say the same things of the Written and Incarnate Word and the same characteristics. The fundamental resemblance lies in the fact that each is the revealer or visible expression of the Invisible God. As the written or spoken Word expresses, to communicate to another, the invisible and inaccessible thought, 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. “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.[17] [18]

Rudolf Bultmann (1883-1976) says that John is speaking here of the Anointed One in a prophetic sense. Therefore, the pre-existent Logos is not what John speaks of here, but its “manifestation” and “incarnation.” It was the object of what was heard, seen, and touched, and thus the origin of the message John brought. Everything the Apostles witnessed while they were with the Messiah was not the Logos uncovered but manifested in human form.[19]

Think of it this way, Bultmann says, when it says in Genesis, “And God said,” that was the Logos – the Word. Even though the Word started creating the universe, it’s hard to see “the Word” unless it is made visible. It would be like John saying, “You remember at the beginning when God said, “Let there be light?” well, I proclaim to you that we’ve seen that Word and that Light in the flesh. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the Living God!

Ian Howard Marshall (1914-2015) put it this way: Here, we have the incredible potential of Christian thought: “He who existed from limitless eternity has entered time and space and taken up residence here on earth.”[20]  He goes on to say: Through a historical event, God channeled His life to us, an event that John says is verified by people who saw it.[21] Another Bible commentator adds a thought for us to consider. Although the Christian message is the means of bringing everlasting life, it was of supreme importance to the writer to clarify beyond all possibility of misunderstanding that God revealed the life to which it bears witness in the historical person of Jesus. It is why he now includes this slightly misplaced parenthesis, which interrupts his line of thought. Its very awkwardness calls attention to its importance: The life God gives He revealed historically in Jesus.[22]

We are not to just observe that life. God meant it as a way of our joining in union with Him in everyday life.  As Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) puts it: “He is not only the living Word, the source of life, but He is life itself.”[23]For instance, if someone asks you, “May I hitch a ride with you for lunch?” The answer, “Sure, Jesus only takes up one seat, so I have plenty of room for you.” Question: “Are you going to the game tonight?”  Answer: “You know, Jesus and I haven’t talked that over yet, but as soon as we do, I’ll let you know.” Question: “Do you plan to stay late tonight and get some more work done?” Answer: “Yes, I plan to stay, but I won’t be alone.” “Oh, who’s staying with you?” “My best friend.  His name is Jesus.” Are you getting the point now? I hope so!  After all, didn’t Jesus say: “I came to give life, a life that is fuller than just existing.”[24]

Dutch Bible scholar Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017), Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, takes issue with many translators who do not consider the literal Greek in the opening clause that reads, “And the Life appeared.” He points out that this conjunction conveys an affirmative intent we can translate as “indeed.” The Amplified Bible renders the verse as follows: “And the Life [an aspect of His being] was manifested.” Furthermore, John also wants to emphasize the meaning of “life,” so he placed the article “the” in front of the word “Life.” In other words, Jesus was not just “life,” but He was “the Life.”[25]

American Reformed Christian theologian James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) notes that the most crucial thing John says in these opening verses is that Christianity is Christ. Without the Anointed One, there would be no Christianity, for Christianity began by God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus and continues by the authoritative testimony of the Apostles and others to that revelation. So, it stands to reason that without the Anointed One, there would be no Christianity in the world today.[26]

Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020), an Indian-born Canadian-American Christian defender, tells us that Paul Tillich, the noted existentialist theologian, traveled to Asia to hold conferences with various Buddhist thinkers. He was studying the significance of religious leaders to the movements they had engendered. Tillich asked a simple question. “What if by some fluke, the Buddha had never lived and turned out to be some fabrication? What would be the implications for Buddhism?” Mind you, Tillich was concerned with the indispensability of the Buddha – not his authenticity.

The scholars did not hesitate to answer. If the Buddha was a myth, they said it did not matter at all. Why? Because we judge Buddhism as an abstract philosophy—as a system of living. Whether its concepts originated with the Buddha is irrelevant. As an idea, I think the Buddha himself would have concurred. Knowing that his death was imminent, he implored his followers not to focus on him but to remember his teachings. Not his life, but his way of life was to be attended to and propagated. Could we treat Christianity the same way? Absolutely not! No Christ, no Christianity.


[1] See Luke 1:2

[2] Ibid. 10:24

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:16

[4] John Trapp: A Commentary or Exposition upon all the Epistles and the Revelation of John the Divine, Printed by John Bellamy at the Sign of the three golden Lions in Cornhill, 1647, p. 465

[5] 1 John 3:2

[6] John 1:2

[7] 1 John 1:14

[8] John Owen: Vol. 2, Christologia, op. cit., Ch, 5, pp. 95-96; 106

[9] 1 John 3:14; cf. verse sixteen

[10] 1 John 3:2; John 14:23ff

[11] John 3:36, 5:24; 6:47, 54; 20:31; See 1 John 5:12

[12] 1 John 5:13; cf. 1 John 3:15

[13] Galatians 2:20

[14] Brooke F. Westcott: The Epistles of St. John, The Greek Text with Notes and Essays, MacMillan and Co., 1886, p. 217

[15] Philippians 2:16

[16] John 1:14

[17] John 14:9, 11

[18] R. A. Torrey: Life in the Word by Philip Mauro, Ch. 7, pp. 125-126

[19] Bultmann, Rudolf: Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 9

[20] Gary M. Burge, op. cit., p. 53

[21] Ibid. p. 54

[22] Ian Howard Marshall, op. cit., p. 103

[23] The Epistles of John, Donald W. Burdick, Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Moody Press, Chicago, 1970, p. 19

[24] Ibid. 10:10

[25] Simon J. Kistemaker: New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 236

[26] James Montgomery Boice: The Epistles of John. An Expositional Commentary, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979, p. 21

About drbob76

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