NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXX) 03/12/21
Albert Barnes (1798-1870) notes that perhaps some might be disposed to claim “they have never sinned,” the Apostle John is careful to guard every point, here, he states that if a person claimed that in their past life they had been wholly upright, it would prove that they had no true religion. The statement here respecting the past seems to prove that when, in verse eight, he refers to the present – “If we say we have no sin” – John meant to say that if a person claimed to be perfect or to be wholly sanctified, it would demonstrate that they deceived themselves. The two statements prove that neither is about the past nor the present can anyone lay claim to perfection.
Richard Rothe (1799-1867) mentions that the enormity of denying one’s sin, of which John spoke of in verse eight, flashes in the apostle’s mind, and hence he pens this verse as a supplement to it. He notices that he has said far too little of this denial in it; now, John establishes what he omitted earlier. There he represented such a denial only as a deceiving of oneself and an indication of a lack of an inner sense of truth, but it is also something far worse. Thereby, a person sins against themselves and commits a trespass against God; they sin against Him in that they make God out to be a liar. In other words, we dismiss everything God said about sin and forgiveness in the First Covenant as untrue. In quoting the Psalms, Paul states that there was not one person found to be right with God.
Irish Presbyterian minister William Graham (1810-1883) and missionary to the Jews writes about those who deceive themselves when it comes to sin and sinning. He says that there are two classes – those who think they are without sin by nature and those who think they got rid of sin through grace. Of the latter category, there are but few, I believe, in our days, except certain individuals among the Methodists and the Catholics. We need not dwell on their delusion, which arises from defective views of sin imperfect opinions regarding the requirements of God’s law. It does not appear that the apostles and prophets of the Lord claimed sinless perfection, and the Lord’s prayer containing the petition, “Forgive us our debts,” was intended for all the disciples.
The other class of individuals, notes Graham, are of varied sentiments and include some admirable characters, though their religious instincts have become entirely perverted. Some will have it there is no such thing as sin in the creation, and, with Lucretius, cry out, “Timor facit deos” (Fear makes the gods), and all that we are dreading are only phantoms of the brain, without reality in the nature of things. Many others in this country identify sin with crime and, building on this foundation, would be highly offended with the imputation that they are sinners. It was the sentiment of one of the most educated Jewish ladies I met in Germany. Here, too, the words of the apostle may be appropriately applied – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
In one of Baptist minister Kazlitt Arvine’s (1819-1851) sermon, there is a great illustration, to sum up, what John says here in verse ten. He notes that the trees and the fields are clothed every year in the freshest and purest hues. In the spring, all the colors are bright and clean. As the summer goes on, the leaves get dark and grimy. Sometimes a shower of rain makes them a little fresher, but they are soon dirtier than ever again. They all fall in the winter: The tree cannot cleanse its leaves, polluted with the city’s smoke, but God in His own time cleanses it and gives it an entirely new suit. The little rain cleansings, soon to be dirtied again, are the partial reformations men make for themselves, saying: “I will stop this habit or that other. I will be a better man” – yet not doing it in God’s strength. The new white robe that God gives the trees is like the Anointed One’s righteousness robe. The difference is that our robe of the Anointed One’s righteousness will never become soiled in the eternal kingdom, where there is none of earth’s defilement.
Joseph Parker (1830-1902) defines light as a revelation. It shows a thousand things we could not have seen, but for the exact degree of its intensity. A little light is a small revelation; a great light is an enormous disclosure; the light seems to create what it only displays. We point out to one another, as we stand in the valley, objects of beauty on the hill-top; perhaps these objects of beauty are relatively little shrubs, but how well-defined they are against the silvery sky! How clear, how almost eloquent! It seems as if presently they might have something to say to us, returning our admiration with some words of grateful recognition Even a blade of grass looks more beautiful in high light than it ever could look in twilight; we seem to see its green blood running all through its wondrous economy.
The more light there is, says Parker, the more knowledge, the more truth, the more extensive, explicit recognition, realization, and things innermost and things most precious. What we want is more light. Some persons might say, We do not want novel ideas. They have the right to say so. But illumination does not make fun in any sense of unimportance or mere experiment; light reveals, shows things that have been there all the time, and we never saw them because the light was never sufficiently intense and glorious. It is the same with Bible-reading. Some people see things in the Bible which other people do not, simply because they walk in a brighter, more revealing light. It is difficult for twilight to believe in the noonday sun. You cannot persuade morning dawn that it will grow into noontide glory; nor can you convince evening dusk that a few hours ago the whole heaven was dazzlingly brilliance.
Parker notes that there are some persons you cannot persuade concerning the brighter light which other readers possess. Hence, they call those readers novelists, dreamers, heretics, persons who want to be wise above that which the Bible says. Impossible! What is recorded? Yes, that is the question. What message does the blind man receive looking at Scripture? Nothing. Only that which is verbalized to a person of imperfect sight. But what can the person with clear vision see? What was penned for those eagle eyes constantly searching for truth? God, all Love, and Truth, Light and Wisdom.
As Parker sees it, we should rejoice over the biblical insights shared by other scholars. We must admire them as our brothers, sisters, elders, teachers, friends, companions according to their abilities. We should consider all views regarding the need for great-teaching, wide-ranging instruction instead of finding fault with one another due to various opinions or interpretations. Not only that, but we should look at all capable and informed teachers as our helpers in the faith. See them as angels and messengers of heaven. One of my most significant Seminary challenges was to prove, using Scripture, what I believed was right and why those with differing concepts were wrong. It exposed the weakness and strengths of my beliefs.
Famous Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), in his teaching on a “Believer’s Sin,” says that there are some young converts who say, “I am afraid I have sinned again, and I can never be a Christian.” Let them turn to read what John says in his first epistle: “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus, the Anointed One, the One who is truly right in God’s eyes.” I don’t want to make light of sin, notes Moody, but it is a comforting thought that my Master made provision for my sin. In his old age, John wrote this when he knew well enough by his experience whether the Christian sins or not. So, he tells us that the Anointed One is gone up on high as a priest. He was here as a prophet; now He is a priest. His office is to intercede for our sins. When I go wrong, it is useless to try to justify myself; but I can go to my knees and let it all out to God, and it is all settled — all put away. I do this because John said here in verse ten that if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar. The fact is, we all have sinned.
Alfred E. Plummer (1841-1926) sees a different way to translate what John says here: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” I would change one word in line with the Greek and Thayer’s Lexicon by saying, “we declare Him to be a liar,” because it is impossible to make God anything other than what He already is. Plummer goes on to say that this is not the same as “that we have no sin” in verse eight, and, therefore, we have not repeated what John said earlier but expanded and strengthened what precedes. “Have no sin” refers to a sinless state; “have not sinned” denotes the actual commission of particular acts of lawbreaking: the one is the inward principle, the other is its result. But the whole context shows that neither expression refers to sins committed before baptism: no Christian will continue to deny these since they are forgiven and washed away. Moreover, John does not write to the recently converted but to those who have grown lukewarm and indifferent. Both expressions refer to sin after baptism, which is a result of past action; we are in the condition of not having to sin.
Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) makes the point that God’s word represents us as being sinners, seeks to awaken a consciousness of sin, and at infinite cost, sends Jesus to save his people from their sins. Hence, any denial of this doctrine gives the lie to God and reveals that his word cannot be the spring of our inner life; the Anointed One is not in us. Our failure is a fact. We sin, and its roots are still deep in our being, but for all that, the apostle calls us, “My little children.” How sweet it sounds after the confession of sin. God does not cease to love us even when we grieve His heart. John persists in calling believers by this tender term, “little children.” God is our Father, and be we infants, strong men, or tottering gray-haired saints, we are still, despite our sins, his “little children.” In this phrase, God’s heart throbs for us.
 Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., pp. 4802-4803
 Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., April 1890, p. 161
 Romans 3:10-12, 23
 Graham, W. (1857), The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 60–61
 Kazlitt Arvine: Biblical Illustrator: op, cit., loc. cit
 Parker, Joseph: The People’s Bible, published by Funk & Wagnalls, New York, 1877-1891, p. 352
 1 John 2:1
 Moody, Dwight L. The Homework, Ch. 4, p. 46
 Plummer, Alfred E. Cambridge University Press, Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 83-84
 Cocke, A. R. (1895). Studies in the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 23–24