WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXIII) 11/18/20

As a result, Brown gives us his paraphrase, which will enable us to understand the ebb and flow of what John was saying:[1]

1a. What was from the beginning                                          perfect             [unfinished]

1b. what we have heard,                                                        perfect             [completed]

1c. what we have seen with our eyes,                                    perfect             [completed]

1d. what we looked at,                                                           active              [past]

1e. and what our hands felt                                                    active              [past]

1f. about the Word [Logos] of Life [zoe].

2a. and the life was revealed                                                  active              [past]

2b. and we have seen and testify                   perfect & present            [completed/current]

2c. and we proclaim to you                                                    present             [current]

2d. the eternal life

2e. of the sort which was toward [with] the Father                imperfect            [unfinished]

2f. and was revealed to us                                                      active              [past]

3a. what we have seen and heard                                          perfect             [completed]

3b. we proclaim also to you                                                   present             [current]

3c. so that you too many have communion [koinonia] with us

3d. and indeed our communion with the Father

3e. and with His Son, Jesus the Anointed One,

4a. and we ourselves write these things                                 present             [current]

4b. so that our joy may be fulfilled.                                       perfect             [completed]

D. Edmond Hiebert (1928-1885), professor emeritus of New Testament at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, gives us a somewhat academic treatment of what Paul says here in verse two. It forms a parenthesis, says Hiebert, following the opening sentence. The conjunctive “and” points to another thought added to what was already said, affirming the historical appearing and eternal nature of “The Life” just mentioned. The clause “and the Life was manifested” then declares the historical fact, comprehensively setting up the Incarnate Life’s appearance here on earth. For John, this Life was not an abstract principle but a real person. The verb “manifested,” common in John’s writings, comprehends the process whereby this Life became visible and tangible.

Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) uses an excellent illustration of imitation Christians. He says, suppose you have a counterfeit bill and think it is genuine. So, you pay for a tank of gas with this fake $20 bill. The gas station manager then uses it to buy supplies, and the supplier pays a grocer for his groceries. The grocer goes to the bank with the phony bill in his deposit. That’s when it comes to light. The bank teller tells the grocer, “I’m sorry, but this bill is counterfeit.” That $20 bill may have done a lot of good while it was in circulation, but the bank exposed it for what it was and pulled it out of circulation. So it is with a counterfeit Christian. They may do many good things in this life, but rejection will be their reward when they face the final judgment.[2]

Karl Marx (1818-1883), one of the founders of Communism, wrote, “The abolition of religion as the people’s illusory happiness is the demand for their real happiness.”[3] But the Apostle John wrote, in effect, “Faith in Jesus the Anointed One gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world. I have experienced this joy myself, and I want to share it with you.”[4] What the world calls “joy” is simply happiness based on circumstances. Christians call “joy” based on faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.[5]

Amos N. Wilder (1893-1993) points out that Eternal life, Fellowship, and now Joy are all interrelated in John’s message. Therefore, our joy is the same joy of every believer. John’s connection of “fellowship” with joy reminds us of what he wrote in his Gospel.[6] [7] It fits very well with what Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians “Let there be in common one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope in love, in the joy which is without fault.”[8]

Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) shares a personal story on what John says here about wanting those he was writing to experience the fullness of joy. Dr. Lloyd-Jones had a practice of preaching on Sunday mornings to his congregation as though they were all believers. Then on Sunday evening, he preached an evangelistic sermon for those who were not yet Christians. This method was called into question by many who thought that if that becomes the routine in each church, then those who attend on Sunday morning may not bother to attend on Sunday evening.

However, preaching Sunday morning in Toronto, Canada, on one occasion, as he and the pastor were shaking hands, a lady who never came to the evening service stated that she would be back that night. When the surprised pastor asked why the lady said she learned she was not a Christian, she returned to become a true believer.[9] I must confess that I followed that same pattern as a Pastor for many years.[10] But I hoped that if there were sinners present, they would evaluate themselves and come to the same conclusion as this lady in Toronto. That’s why on Sunday mornings, the speaker gives an invitation to anyone who needs to make that decision right away.

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) says that eternal life means “Joy.” Joy motivates, informs, and issues from fellowship, but it is holy joy. There is a story about a young Roman officer named Marius who visited some Christian friends one evening. When he entered Cecilia’s villa garden, he heard them singing in what struck him as a new way to express joy. In Marius’ eyes, “It was the expression not altogether of laughter, yet of some wonderful sort of happiness – the carefree expressiveness of a joyful soul in people upon whom some all-subduing experience had wrought heroically, and who still remembered, on this bland afternoon, the hour of a great deliverance.”[11] Those who genuinely behold the Word of Life, says Wilder, are ruled by so great an experience that they must sing about their joy.

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) says that John’s primary purpose in continuing his declaration of the incarnation was that his hearers might “have fellowship” with the Apostles. And by saying, “may have,” John was not expecting an immediate conversion to his point of view. Paul’s use of the Greek noun is koinōnia (“fellowship”), comes from the root word koinos, which means (“common”). It is used in secular Greek to refer to things “held in common.” Therefore, fellowship, then, is based on something held in common by two or more persons. Jesus says that all it takes is for two or three to get together to form a fellowship with Him.[12] The context of John’s message, says Burdick, is that what they hold in common is the truth of the incarnation of God’s Son. Without accepting this fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, there can be no such thing as “fellowship” in the Final Covenant sense.[13]

Rudolph Alan Culpepper (1930-2015) sees John’s opening words in his First Epistle as a prologue to the whole epistle, announcing that “the word of life” has been manifest. Life’s message is grounded in the life of Jesus, God’s Son, who revealed the nature of eternal life, that God’s children now share. As a prologue, says Culpepper, it introduces many of the Epistle’s significant concerns. That includes the reality of Jesus’ incarnation, and the nature of life revealed in Him. It highlights the importance of participation in the community so a person can share in that life.[14] Therefore, eternal life is not something we hope for or await at some distant time, but it is now in our possession. Once you are born again to live for the Anointed One, you are born again to live with Him forever.

Stephen S. Smalley gives us an excellent translation of these first four verses: “What was there from the beginning – which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have observed, and felt with our hands – is our subject; the word of life. That Life was revealed. We have seen it; we are bearing witness and proclaiming to you the eternal life which existed with the Father and has been revealed to us. What we have seen and heard we are declaring to you as well, so that you also may share in our fellowship: a fellowship which we have with the Father, and with His Son Jesus the Anointed One. And we are writing this in order that our joy may be complete![15]


[1] Brown, Raymond E. The Anchor Bible, Epistles of John, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1982, p. 152

[2] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real (1 John): Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit., p. 24

[3] Marx, Karl: Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbucher, February, 1844

[4] Wiersbe, Warren W., ibid. p. 27

[5] Hebrews 11:1

[6] John 15:10-11

[7] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., p. 220

[8] Ignatius: Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 7

[9] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in Christ, op. cit., pp. 23-24

[10] My motivation behind this was that on Sunday morning non-church members would be attending services in their own church, but on Sunday evening when their church did not have an evangelistic service, they were free to come or be invited to our church to hear a salvation message.

[11] Marius the Epicurean, Vol. 2, by Walter Horatio Pater, E. P. Hutton, New York, 1934, “Everyman’s Library,” Part 4, Chap. 21: Two Curious Houses, The Church in Cecilia’s House, p. 196

[12] Matthew 18:20

[13] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 21

[14] Culpepper, R. Alan:  Harper’s Bible Commentary, Mays, J. L. (Ed.), Harper & Row. San Francisco: 1988, p. 1291

[15] Smalley, Stephen S. Word biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1, 2, 3, John, Word Books, Waco, Texas 1984, p. 3

About drbob76

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