NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXIV) 03/04/21
Can we get forgiveness for our sins after we are in the grave has long been a question through the ages. An explanation from Catholic St. Thomas University reads: In Christian tradition, death is the end of individual life on earth, but not the end of personal consciousness, which survives the body’s death as the soul. Death, then, represents the separation of the soul from its earthly body. Christians have always hoped for the reunification of the soul with a resurrected, transformed body. It implies that the soul will once again have a body to encompass it for all eternity. What this script does not say is that “Yes,” you can get forgiveness of your sins in Purgatory. When you were baptized as an infant, you were sealed for heaven.
The process of death is complicated for most people, they say. Not only does it entail pain, but increased dependence on others. Consequently, many people hope for a quick and painless death. But in the Christian tradition, sudden and unexpected death is not a good death. Christians believe that at death, one comes into the presence of God and, therefore, of judgment. A believer needs to prepare for this moment. That is why Jesus teaches that we must always repent, learn to love one another, and forgive those who have wronged us; otherwise, forgiveness is impossible.
Therefore, they conclude, at the time of one’s death, we must forgive others, say goodbye to loved ones, settle one’s material affairs, and, most importantly, make one’s peace with God. Death is the end of our earthly journey, but it is the beginning of a much longer journey in the afterlife. In Christian teaching, this afterlife journey can be a beautiful and fulfilling experience or traumatic. Having served as a hospital and hospice chaplain, this is what I would call “wishful thinking.” Most patients are in pain at the point of death or anesthetized against pain and do not control their mental faculties. To this, the Apostle Paul would echo what God said through the prophet Isaiah: “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you. Yes indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.”
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) makes an important statement here. He says that the Apostle John instructs believers in the way to obtain continued pardon of their sin. Here’s what he means; It’s our duty to confess our sins. That means repentant confession and acknowledgment of sin are the believer’s business and the means of their deliverance from their guilt. Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards, agrees by saying that “Confession and repentance of sin are spoken of as duties proper for ALL,” as well as a prayer to God for pardon and forgiveness.
Furthermore, the Apostle John offers encouragement and assurance of a happy outcome. It is the accuracy, righteousness, and forgiveness of God, to whom He makes such confession: He is faithful and unbiased in forgiving them of their sins and cleansing them from all unrighteousness. God is faithful to His covenant and Word, wherein He promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors. He was unselfish with Himself and His glory by providing a sacrifice by which His righteousness justification for sinners was declared available to all.
He is fair to His Son, not only by sending Him for such service but promised Him that those who come through Him, He would forgive on His account. By His knowledge (by the believing in Him) will my righteous servant justify many. He is kind and gracious also, and so will forgive, to the contrite confessors, all their sins, cleanse them from the guilt of all unrighteousness, and in due time deliver them from the power and practice of wrongdoing.
William Sinclair (1850-1917) states, “He,” from the context, cannot possibly be any other than God. Here another excellent progression of thought meets us. Not merely “we are in the truth,” but are actually and gloriously on God’s side; faithful and just on account of the Anointed One’s sacrifice and our repentance. Sinclair invites us to view the double notion of forgiving and cleansing. Unfortunately, the Vatican interpreters limit the cleansing here to purgatory in a very arbitrary way.
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) feels John inserted verse nine between verses eight and ten to warn about considering oneself sinless. That’s why he calls for us to confess our sins in order to receive cleansing. Reading verse eight and then verse ten makes the insertion more obvious. John did not want his readers to think that by not admitting they have lawbreaking tendencies that express themselves in sinful acts, they were making God a liar. This confession of sins must correspond to “walking in the Light” in verse seven. For Bultmann, the importance of recognizing that while we are confessing our sins, we have fellowship with God and one another. That is what “walking in the Light” actually means.
1:9b In one of the most awesome prayers in the First Covenant, Daniel declares his faith in God’s forgiveness. John had the same confidence when he says; We can trust God to do this. He always does the right thing. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.
Œcumenius (circa 700-800 AD) instructs us that when we say that God is faithful, it means that He is reliable. Faithful, as a word, applies to those who believe as well as to those who prove to be reliable. It is in this second sense that it is applied to God. He is also just in that He does not refuse anyone who comes to Him, however seriously they may have sinned. Sometimes when we slight a person, we’re not sure if they will listen to us, even if we say we are sorry. But not God. He is faithful to His word.
John Calvin (1509-1564 AD) advises that the whole matter of sin and confession can be clearly stated. First, define “confession of sin” as explained in the Word of God. Second, announce acceptable forms in doing so – not everything a person or Church can think of, that would be too much for anyone to swallow. But those only which contain honest, repentant confessions to God and the Anointed One. I feel grieved, says Calvin, to mention how frequently the old Latin interpreters rendered the word confessionis as “confess” instead of “praise,” something the most illiterate are notorious for doing. If it were not fitting, says Calvin, to expose their hardheadedness in rewriting what is written in God’s Word concerning praises and translating it as confess. Unless you are a Latin scholar, this may sound foreign to you and leave you wondering why Calvin is so troubled.
The Latin version by Roman Catholics used in Calvin’s day was known as the “Vulgate.” To prove their point that confession has the effect of exhilarating the mind, they misuse a passage in the Psalms that render it: “And I will enter, and go up to the altar of God, to God who enlivens my youthfulness. To you, O God, my God, I will confess upon a stringed instrument.” The Complete Jewish Bible has: “As I enter my feelings well up within me, with sounds of joy and praise from the throngs observing the festival.” In Calvin’s mind and experience, confession to God, in the Catholic doctrine, had little to do with praising God.
Calvin is perturbed and says that anything is valid for them if they can do this. They will be able to make the Bible say anything they want it to say. In speaking of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, Calvin is troubled that they seem to have lost all shame. So, he cautions every true believer to reflect on how God, as the Apostle Paul said, has abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that never should be done. If we allow ourselves, says Calvin, to give in to such a simple method of plagiarizing of Scripture, there is a danger of our being misled by other such marginalized interpretations on critical doctrines. It was a problem in Luther and Calvin’s day and continuing in the ensuing years up to today.
One method of confessing is prescribed; since it is the Lord who forgives and wipes away sins, let us confess them, that we may obtain pardon. He is the physician; therefore, let us show our wounds to Him. He is hurt and offended because of our lawbreaking tendencies; let us seek peace with Him. He is the discerner of the heart and knows all one’s thoughts; let us hurry to pour out our hearts before him. It is He who invites sinners; let us not delay in drawing near to him. “I acknowledge my sin to You,” says David, “and I did not hide my immorality from You. I said I would confess my wrongdoings to the Lord, and You forgave the injustice of my sin.”
Another specimen of David’s confessions is as follows: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness.” The following is Daniel’s confession: “We have sinned. We have done wrong and have acted in sin. We have turned against You and Your Laws.” Other examples occur in Scripture: their quotation would almost fill a volume. “If we confess our sins,” says John, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” To whom are we to confess? Surely, it’s to Him – that is, we are to fall before Him with a grieved and humbled heart, and sincerely accusing and condemning ourselves, seek forgiveness of His goodness and mercy.
 Mark 1:14
 Matthew 22:36-40
 Ibid. 6:14-15
 Ibid. 5:25, 31-46
 2 Corinthians 6:2
 The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 2, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, Part 1, Ch. 1, p. 452
 Isaiah 53:11
 Matthew Henry: An Exposition with Practical Observations, of the First Epistle General of John, Vol. VI, p.836
 Sinclair, William: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 476
 See Daniel 9:4-20
 Œcumenius: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., p. 173
 Vulgate means, “common day language.” It is the root word for our phrase “vulgar.”
 Psalm 42:4
 Romans 1:28
 Ibid. 32:5
 Psalm 51:1
 Daniel 9:5
 John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 4, op. cit., pp. 659-660; 893-894