WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXVII) 11/24/20

Alfred E. Plummer (1746-1829) points out that there are three statements in the Bible which stand alone as revelations of the Nature of God, and they are all in the writings of the Apostle John: “God is spirit;”[1] “God is light;”[2] and “God is love.”[3] In all these momentous statements, the predicate has no article, either definite or indefinite. We do not read that God has a Spirit, or has Light, or has Love. But God is Spirit, Light, and Love. These are the substance of His essence and nature. They are not mere attributes, like mercy and justice: they are Himself. They are probably the nearest approach to a definition of God that the human mind could frame or comprehend: In the history of thought and religion, they are unique. The more we consider them, the more they satisfy us. The most superficial intellect can understand their meaning; the most advanced intelligence cannot measure its height, length, width, or depth.

No philosophy, no religion, not even Jewish theology, has risen to the truth that God is Light. Even Isaiah’s proclamation “The Lord will be to you an everlasting light”[4] falls short of it. But John knows it: and to prevent his message to seem somewhat uninspiring and empty in its inconclusiveness, he conveys to us in his Gospel and Epistle, “God is Spirit,” “God is light,” God is love.”

No figure borrowed from the material world could give the idea of perfection so clearly and fully as light. It suggests brightness, happiness, intelligence, truth, purity, holiness. It offers excellence without limit or flaw; distinct whose nature is to communicate and saturate everything except where entry is blocked. ‘Let there be light’ was the first command of the Creator, and on it all the rest depends. Light is the condition of beauty, life, growth, and activity: and this is as true in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres as in the material universe.[5]

Adam Clarke (1760-1851) writes that God is the source of wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and happiness; and in Him is no darkness at all – no ignorance, no imperfection, no sinfulness, no misery. And from him, wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and happiness are received by every believing soul. It is the grand message of the Gospel, the great principle on which humanity’s happiness depends. Light implies every essential excellence, especially wisdom, holiness, and happiness. Darkness implies all imperfection, and principally ignorance, sinfulness, and misery. Light is the purest, the most understated, the most useful, and the most drawn-out of all God’s creations; it is, therefore, a very proper emblem of the purity, perfection, and goodness of His Divine nature.

God is to the human soul, says Clarke, what the sunlight is to the world; without the latter, all would be dismal and uncomfortable, and terror and death would universally prevail: and without an indwelling God, what is religion? Without His all-penetrating and enduring light, what is the soul of a human being? Religion would be an empty science, says Clarke, a dead letter, an unreliable and insignificant system leaving the soul in a trackless wilderness, a howling waste, full of evil, terror, and dismay. Not only that, but it would become entangled with anticipations of the future, leaving those lost of this world with successive, permanent, substantial, and endless periods of doubt and misery.

No wonder the Apostle lays this down as a first and grand principle, stating it to be the essential message he received from the Anointed One to deliver to the world.[6] Notice how verses seven, eight, and nine begin with “if.” That means that what Paul says next should be considered abnormal for the average believer.

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) points out that John does not say, “God is the Light,” instead, “God is Light. That’s why John does not use the article “the.” The Light without the article attributes to God in an immaterial manner the property of being Light, without stating what kind of light or how far this fact belongs to God exclusively. Rothe also insists that we must inquire into a more precise meaning of “light” and “darkness.” You cannot have light and darkness together. Darkness is the absence of light. As soon as light appears, the darkness is no more. Some believe that “light” refers to knowledge about God, while “darkness” means ignorance about God. It is undoubtedly used that way, but not here. John uses “light” as God’s essence. “Darkness, then, becomes its opposite.

Rothe feels that John is unquestionably thinking here of God’s absolute holiness, in opposition to all sin and all error.[7] That makes “Light” the expression of God’s righteousness. It expresses it as defined by its absolute non-worldliness, as in His absolute purity. He is untouched by material or physical defilement. As the light of pure love, God turns towards His creatures as complete goodness.[8] Hence the Christian God stands in contrast with the heathen gods, in whom there is also a total lack of life, which promotes envy and jealousy in its worshippers.[9]

Karl G. Braune (1810-1877) agrees with John’s claim that God IS Light, which Greek scholar Henry Alford also points out (not as Martin Luther renders it, “a light”).[10] 1) Since when do you know it? 2) What does it mean? 3) Where does it point? So, whatever authentic views you may have of God the Father, you got them from the Anointed One. No matter whether a messenger of salvation is a minister of the Church, your mother, Sunday school teacher, a friend, or Christian hands brought them to you from the Bible, the Holy Spirit etched them in your heart. Nothing gladdens the hearts of men more than light; but how have they abused the Word and deprived it of its best part, and try to make it chime in with unholiness in thought, word, and deed!

William Graham (1810-1883) This remarkable expression may be compared with the assertion  “God is Love,”[11] which two abstract propositions seem to refer to the natural and moral attributes of God. Light and love are the two most comprehensive symbols of the nature of the Deity as the all-knowing and yet all-loving God. The assertion “God is Light” means, no doubt, that God is the pure, holy, eternal Spirit, who created the universe, the fountain of all purity, holiness, knowledge, and fertility in the world.[12]

The world’s light dazzles without illuminating, shines without producing a spring with blossoms or autumn with fruit. – The world’s enlightenment may be useful in building bridges of honor in this life, bringing acclaim to artists and fame to the wise, being in charge of law and order in the land and the streets, and bringing rejoicing to society with a refreshed mind. However, it can also undermine and destroy the salvation of your soul. But it cannot carry the gleam of consolation into life’s night, still less into the darkness of the valley of death; it cannot help the soul find love and a life death cannot destroy. – The world’s light sets like the sun in the sky, but God the Light shines through all the darkness of sin, life, or death. – Try every light, whether God is in it. – If He, the Holy One, is absent, that light is no light worthy of the name, but a false light, a will-o’-the-wisp.[13] Do not look for salvation in any science or civilization insights if it denies the holy light. Fear only the darkness in which God the Father is not present.[14]

Richard Holmes Tuck (1817-1868) says that the first part of this epistle begins here. It is directed against the Gnostic teaching that to an enlightened individual, all conduct is morally uncaring. There have been those who claimed an interest in the Anointed One while living in sin at every age. John does not address sinners generally, but distinctly those who made Christian profession but fell short of it through misunderstandings and self-delusions. It is not merely the absolute fact concerning Him. It is a precise detail that Jesus, the Anointed One, declared to be the first of truths. “We heard of Him.” Divine holiness is Christianity’s foundation. Light is the sensible symbol of integrity, moral purity. So why walk in darkness? People may do so either to hide what they do not wish to be seen or to cover self-indulgent ways that symbolize such darkness. It leads to lying in self-deception or in willfully deceiving others. Plummer says, “Some Gnostics taught, not merely that to the enlightened individual all conduct was alike, but that to reach the highest form of informed people must experience every kind of repulsive behavior, to work themselves free from the powers that rule the world.[15] [16]

Charles J. Ellicott (1819-1904) says that the words, “God is light,” is the essence of Christian theology, the truth about the Deity as opposed to all the imperfect conceptions of Him which had embittered the minds of the wise. To the pagan, Deities represented angry, malicious beings, worshipped by the secrecy of outrageous vice. To the Greeks and Romans, forces of nature transformed into superhuman men and women, powerful and impure; to philosophers, it was a concept, either moral or physical; to Gnostics, it was a small idea involving equal and contending forces of good and evil. It is recognizable only through less and less perfect delegates. All this, John summed up what the First Covenant and our Lord said about the Almighty Father. He sweeps it all away in one simple declaration of truth. 


[1] John 4:24

[2] 1 John 1:5

[3] Ibid. 4:8

[4] Isaiah 60:19-20

[5] Alfred E. Plummer: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 79

[6] Adam Clarke: Commentary and Critical Notes on the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, Hebrews – Revelation, Vol. 6, p. 365

[7] See James 1:17

[8] See Commentary 1 John 1:7 below

[9] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., February 1890, pp.116-117

[10] Alford, Henry: Greek New Testament, Vol. 4, op. cit., p. 426

[11] 1 John 4:8

[12] Graham, William (1857), The Spirit of Love, op. cit., p. 31

[13] Gases escaping from mud and slime in a marsh or bog

[14] Braune, Karl G. Homiletic: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 30

[15] 2 Corinthians 6:14

[16] Tuck, Richard H.: p. 230

About drbob76

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