WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXVI) 11/09/20

You cannot dismiss a true eye-witness easily. John involved himself more than being a spectator to the man and the ministry of Jesus. He not only saw, but heard, touched, and felt. It added more weight to his testimony. So often, we become just onlookers when we should be participants. When it comes to witnessing, God is our judge, but the world is our jury. Let’s not only be an observer to who Jesus was and is and will be, but engaged in every facet of serving Him, worshiping Him, and glorifying Him before the world and His Father in heaven. What John says here is not something he just made up; it came from the lips of his Master: “I have told you these things so that you can have the joy that I have. I want your joy to overflow.”[1] John Stott (1921-2011) put it this way: “He not only showed Himself to the disciples to qualify them as ‘eyewitnesses,’ but gave them an authoritative commission as ‘apostles’ to preach the Gospel.”[2]

In the New American Standard Study Bible (1963-1971), we find this note: “The two central passages for continued fellowship with God are John 15 and 1 John 1. John 15 relates the positive side of fellowship, that is, abiding in the Anointed One. 1 John 1 unfolds the other side, pointing out that when Christians do not abide in the Anointed One, they must seek forgiveness before fellowship can be restored.”  Professor F. F. Bruce makes this point: “Those who abandoned the apostolic teaching and fellowship severed themselves from fellowship with the Father and His apostles.”[3]  And Thomas F. Johnson makes this observation: “It is evident here that ‘fellowship’ (koinōnia) is not merely a matter of love and hospitality, but is primarily a matter of eternal life and death.”[4]  Unfortunately, as William Barclay expresses it: “In the first days of Christianity there was a glory and a splendor, but now Christianity had become a thing of habit, ‘traditional, half-hearted, nominal.’ Men had grown used to it, and something of the wonder was lost.”[5]

Robert Law (1860-1919), minister of Laureston Place Church, Edinburgh, explains that the knowledge of the Divine Revelation given to the world in Jesus the Anointed One is derived ultimately from the testimony of the Apostles and a few other contemporary witnesses. They communicated it by word-of-mouth and epistles like all information in those days. Those who know share it with those who are uninformed. Those who “have not seen and yet have believed” are often considered inferior to the original eyewitnesses? John’s Epistle assures its readers that they are in no such position of inferiority. They have the testimony and teaching of the Spirit.[6]

Law also finds that all Biblical interpreters cannot agree on the grammatical relation and the precise meaning of these two clauses. The Latin Vulgate Version (followed by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others) places both clauses under the guidance of “that you may have fellowship with us, and that our (common) fellowship may be with the Father and with His Son Jesus the Anointed One.”

We can set this aside, says Law, on the grounds of both the grammar and as an impossible sequence. On the other hand, some regard the second clause as indirectly contained in the first – “That you also may have fellowship (with God) along with us; and, truly, our fellowship is with the Father.” But there is no warrant for taking the word fellowship as meaning “fellowship with God,” and, even if taken that way, the interpretation of the Greek noun koinōnia as “fellowship with God in common with us” is very strained. Koinōnia comes from the Greek root word koinōnos meaning “partnership.”

The real difficulty, says Law, is to determine the meaning of koinōnia we have with God and each other, respectively. We modify our mental image of fellowship by the different objects to which it is related. The first clause points to a community of privilege between the Apostle and his readers. They have John’s historical Gospel, this being the purpose of his announcement. The second clause is participation in the Life and Light of God. The logical link of connection is that the basis of both “fellowships,” human and divine, is found in the knowledge of God manifested in the Anointed One.[7] Humanity receives it due to the incarnate life of the Anointed One. By participating with the Apostles holding that knowledge, readers can enter into the “fellowship” of the Father and the Son.[8]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) says that fellowship with God became possible when the Anointed One revealed Him to mankind as the Father, with whom His children could enter into communication. Such harmony, namely, which is possible between parent and child, is only realized in and through Jesus the Anointed One, the man sent to make God known. The title Jesus Messiah always emphasizes both ideas, the historical life and human nature of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Divine commission of God’s Anointed One. And the use of the title “Only-begotten Son” emphasizes His capacity to make God known to humanity.

John can conceive of no adequate knowledge of God, which can be apprehended by man except in so far as it is revealed in real human life, by One who is an only begotten Son of God. Only a Son can reveal the Father. Only a begotten Son sums up all the qualities of His Father. The burden of the writer’s message is added up in the last verse of the Prologue to the Gospel, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[9] [10]

D. Edmond Hiebert (1910-1995), a pastor, professor, and theologian in the Mennonite Brethren Church and then the Baptist Church, makes a note of the four opening clauses in verse one. We see that each beginning with “which,” are parallel in scope and declare the reality of the Incarnation. All four are the direct objects of the verb “proclaim,” which he expresses in verse three. This use of the neuter “which” does not mean that John had in view an abstract message. Instead, he was thinking about the comprehensive reality of the historical manifestation of Eternal Life in the flesh as the Anointed One. The first clause relates to the Incarnation itself; the remaining three declare the Anointed One’s apostolic experiences. The opening clause, “Which was from the beginning,” has been variously understood. Hiebert remarked that these words, considered in themselves, may say all that it is possible to say, and yet when they are isolated, they fundamentally declare nothing. We must see their significance in the light of what follows.[11]

It was not the Apostles’ physical nearness to Jesus the Anointed One that made them what they were, says Warren Wiersbe (1929-1919). Wiersbe once responded to a student who claimed that because the Apostle John saw and heard Jesus in person, he had an advantage to claiming these things. How can we say that we know Jesus personally as John did? It was their spiritual nearness, says Wiersbe. They committed themselves to Him as their Savior and their Lord. Jesus the Anointed One was real and exciting to John and his colleagues because they had trusted Him. By putting their faith in the Anointed One, they experienced the gift of everlasting life![12]

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) says that John has several points to communicate. First, by emphasizing that the Life was seen, heard, and touched, that gives even more proof that He was not a ghost or phantom. He was a real human being with whom they had fellowship. It may have been done as a warning to his readers to be aware of phase doctrines going around that attempted to deny our Lord’s human nature, physical appearance, and later on, His bodily resurrection. Secondly, John’s purpose for declaring this news was his assurance of having had physical contact with the Anointed One. He prayed it might result in their joy in knowing that the Anointed One in whom they believed for their salvation and eternal life was real, as he says in the next verse.[13]

Rudolph M. Smith (1931-2016) says that this passage’s implications for Christian teaching are clear enough. We are dealing with a crucial aspect of what has since been called the “doctrine of the incarnation.” What is at stake here? Here in the Apostle John’s letter, we find a definitive answer to the question of the nature of Jesus and His coming, provided in opposition to the teaching that John deems not only flawed but malicious. Jesus came in the flesh, and to refuse to affirm this is heresy.[14] How could He die on behalf of human beings if He were not one Himself? That’s what God demanded; that’s what God got.


[1] John 15:11; 1 John 1:4

[2] Stott, John R. W., The Letters of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revised Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, loc. cit., p. 67

[3] Bruce, F. F. The Gospel & Epistles of John, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, loc. cit., p. 39

[4] Johnson, Thomas F. 1, 2, and 3 John, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, op. cit., p. 27

[5] Barclay, William: The Letters of John and Jude, Revised Edition, Daily Study Bible, op. cit., p. 3

[6] Law, Robert (1909), The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle on St. John, op. cit., p. 111

[7] John 17:3

[8] Law, Robert: op. cit., pp. 370–371

[9] John 1:18

[10] Brooke, Alan, E. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptural of the Old and New Testaments, The Johannine Epistles, T. & T. Clarke, Edinburgh, 1912, p. 8

[11] Hiebert, David E., An Exposition of 1 John, pp. 201-202

[12] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real (1 John): Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit., p. 22.

[13] Kistenmaker, Simon J. op. cit., pp. 237-238

[14] Smith, D. Moody. First, Second, and Third John: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (pp. 39-40). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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