WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XL) 11/27/20

Paul E. Kretzmann (1883-1965) states that light is the symbol of purity, goodness, and perfection, so, on the other hand, darkness symbolizes ignorance, sinfulness, misery, corruption. Upon this fact, the Apostle bases a conclusion regarding the Christians’ moral conduct and spiritual lifestyle. If we say that we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we are liars and are not practicing the truth – that we have fellowship with God as our heavenly Father by faith, as the Apostle just stated. But if now, we who profess to be Christians and thus united with God in the most intimate union, live and behave ourselves as though we were still in darkness, addicted to sin, serving sin and corruption, then our entire life is one big lie. We may be self-deceived, under some circumstances, but the lie is there nevertheless.  According to our heavenly Father’s will, we are not doing, practicing, living the truth, which demands that we observe a pure and holy life. To walk and live in sins while professing to be children of God is to brand ourselves as liars and hypocrites.[1]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) points out that this section’s construction is very similar to 1 John 2:25, 3:11, and 5:11 (cf. John 1:19). Now John highlights the message after he spotlighted the Messenger. John says that what they heard is that Jesus called Himself, “Light.”[2] That by itself makes it clear that there is no darkness in Him. Bultmann says that this defines God’s nature as He is in Himself, as does “God is love.” For Bultmann, this “Light” is for the illumination that humanity needs to find their way in daily life and their spiritual life. That society can see more clearly with this light is God’s eternal life for all who believe in His Son.[3]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) says that the next three verses pose a question: “Are you living a life of fellowship with God?” The answer is in John’s words. Some of his readers may not have understood the essence of God. John did not discover this all by himself; he heard it, saw it, and touched it. Now he’s ready to announce it. In essence, it is the message John’s and the other apostles heard from the Anointed One and are passing on: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in Him.[4] So it makes sense that if His light illuminates us as He is the Light, our fellowship with Him and our fellow believers will remain unbroken.

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) talks about poetry in the Scriptures and notes that the verse pattern in John’s epistle is peculiar in that, although being a Jew, it does not resemble the Hebraic-style of their poetry in parallelisms as we find in the First Covenant, especially the Psalms and Proverbs. Instead, it represents a Greek type of expression, as here in verse five:

                                                            God is light

                                                            And in Him, there is no darkness at all.

The point is that by using such stark contrasting parallelisms, the message comes through loud and clear. For John, this is enough evidence that this letter rests on a poetic source that it continually cites, and to which the writer adds his comments and applications.[5] Look at it this way, when you read a novel, the grammar is constructed to tell a story. But when you read the lyrics of a poem, they often have the cadence meant for singing. In John’s case, he put it in a form meant for preaching.

William Barclay (1907-1978) tells us that a person’s character determines the charisma of the gods they worship. Therefore, John begins by laying down God’s nature, the Father of Jesus the Anointed One Christians worship. God, he says, is Light, and there is no darkness in Him. What does this statement tell us about God? First, it tells us that He is splendid in His glory. There is nothing so glorious as a blazing light piercing the darkness. To say that God is light tells us of his sheer splendor. Secondly, it tells us that God is self-revealing. Human thinking did not reveal God; God manifested Himself. Above all things, light can be seen and dispels the darkness round about it. To say that God is light is to say that there is nothing secretive or sneaky about Him. He wishes to be seen and to be known by all humanity.

Barclay goes on to point out that thirdly, it tells us of God’s purity and holiness. There is none of the darkness which hides hidden evil in God. He is light speaks to us of His crystal and stainless holiness. Fourthly, it tells us of the guidance of God. It is one of the great functions of light to show the way. Hence, the Chrisitan road lit and the right road. To say that God is Light is to say that He offers His guidance for believers’ footsteps. And, fifthly, it tells us of the revealing quality in the presence of God. Light is the great revealer. Hidden flaws and stains in the shade are apparent in the Light. Light reveals invisible imperfections in any piece of artistry or material. So, then, we can see the shortcomings of life in the presence of God.[6] And there is no more revealing light than that which comes from God’s Word. So, to say clean and pure, we must continuously let the Light of the Gospel penetrate our lives.

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) notes that the statement “God is Light” represents the core and keynote all through Part One of the Epistle. He is the revelation in the message, a point that does not have to be proven. John imparts an inner attraction and warmth to the theme of fellowship with God. There is nothing, says Schnackenburg, that fires up the religious yearnings of the good old days. Before “Life and Light” were part of Christianity, they existed in mysticism and cultism. But those lights cannot compare to the Light that came into the world through God’s Son. Those false religions made a significant distinction between humanity and God, but Christianity narrows that distance. Not only does God become closer, but He dwells within us.[7]

Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) says that after having stated the foundation of all true fellowship, John tells us that there are certain conditions to be met before we can enjoy this fellowship. Initially, John reveals the character of God. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. So, to the believers, one tiny iota of darkness or sin in our life breaks our fellowship with God.[8] Since God is Light, we can illustrate this by saying that our connection with God is like an electric wire. If a fuse blows in that connection, our light goes out. The only way to get the light back on is to confess that sin and have Him restore the current by replacing the Grace-fuse (see verse seven).

John Stott (1921-2011) brings up the point that the terms “light” and “darkness” are used metaphorically as the universal language of religious symbolism. Intellectually, light is truth, and darkness is ignorance or error. Morally, light is purity and darkness evil.[9] That’s why we read about God’s Word is a lamp and light.[10] So when it says we are the Light of the World, it means that we bring with us the message of Salvation as delivered to us by the Light Himself.[11] That’s why Jesus told us to “Let our light shine,”[12] it doesn’t mean to carry a lamp around with us all the time. Instead, let the effects of the Light in God’s Word illuminate our lives, actions, and speech.

Rudolph M. Smith (1931-2016) makes sure we understand that the term “God is Light” means that God is freedom from darkness or death. To say that the Gospel – Good News – of God’s salvation is the proclamation of “God is Light” evokes the statement in John’s Gospel prologue that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[13] It is also a clear allusion to the coming of Jesus as the Light and Life of humankind. The reader of the Gospel, ancient or modern, will know this – or learn it. Otherwise, the message is that God is Light and without any darkness sounds strangely abstract, but it is a proposition to which many people in the ancient world, pagan or Jewish, could readily have agreed. John’s point is that in Jesus, the light has shone in such a way as really to illumine human life.[14]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) summarizes the message John and his fellow Apostles heard from Jesus. It is: “God is light.” To walk in darkness is to walk in sin. In other words, to continue in sinful behavior means you behave like a sinner. “Light” is the opposite of sin’s filthiness; it is the holiness of God, the sin-loathing purity of God. “Light” includes the revelation of God that shows His character and all that He stands for. This illumination helps clarify the human situation and makes God’s will clear.[15] As the Apostle Paul described it to the Ephesians, we reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of the Anointed One.[16]


[1] Kretzmann, Paul E., Popular Commentary, First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] John 8:12

[3] Bultmann, Rudolf: First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 15-16

[4] Lewis, Greville P. Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 20

[5] Wilder, Amos N. Early Christian Rhetoric, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1971

[6] Barclay, William: The Letters of John and Jude, Revised Edition, Daily Study Bible, op. cit., pp. 28-29

[7] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 73-74

[8] Snaddon, Daniel C., First John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), p. 75, InterVarsity Press

[10] Proverbs 6:23; Psalms 119:105; 130; 2 Peter 1:19

[11] Cf. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Acts of the Apostles 13:46-47; 26:18, 23

[12] Matthew 5:16

[13] John 1:5

[14] Smith, Dwight M., First, Second, and Third John, op. cit., pp. 42-43

[15] Eaton, Michael, op. cit., p. 37

[16] Ephesians 4:13

About drbob76

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