WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XIV) 04/12/21

George G. Findlay (1849-1920) looks at some possible contradictions in what John says here. He believes the Apostle John admits that a truly cleansed and saved person may lapse into sin, and yet he writes later on in chapter 3:6, 9: “Anyone who continues to live in Him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who He is. Those born into God’s family do not make a sinning practice because God’s life is in them. So, they can’t keep on sinning because they are children of God.” These contrary implications are not easily aligned with each other says Findlay. The idea of sin in Christian believers has something monstrous about it.

We can ease the contradiction by observing that the verbs of 3:6, 9 relating to sin in the present tense of the Greek verb menō, which denotes “to continue to be present.” In our text, sin is seen as a single occurrence and may include no more than a trivial act of sin, committed once and repented, such as Peter’s memorable fall. Indeed, when Jesus the Anointed One appears in the following clause as Advocate, this presupposes the wrongdoer’s confession, and a petition is for mercy. Now, the Paraclete is called for someone in need and danger. The Anointed One is no Advocate for the persistent sinner but for the wayward believer who renounces their trespass and laments their having fallen.[1]

Charles Gore (1853-1932) reminds us that in an earlier church document called “the Didache,”[2] we learn that mutual confession of sins before the Eucharist was the practice of the Church, “Having first confessed your sins, that your sacrifice might be pure.”[3] We must acknowledge, says Gore, that Jesus’ divine commission given to the Apostles to forgive or retain sins only applies to individual Christians judged by Church ministers to be guilty.[4] It is on this apostolic practice of requiring the confession of disgraceful sins in the congregation and encouraging the confession of sins in general, and on the divine authority of absolving and retaining such errors that the repentant discipline of the Church stands, which has significantly varied in different times and places.[5]

The eldest son of English Baptist minister Clement Bailhache is named Sir Clement Meacher Bailhache (1856-1924). This British commercial lawyer and judge employs his legal knowledge to explain the Greek noun hilasmos, translated as “propitiation (KJV)” and used in verse two by the Apostle John. It means to turn away anger. To bring about reconciliation for some wrongdoing. This word is only used here and later in chapter four, verse ten. That means, says Sir Bailhache, that the need for soothing was necessary because we were all in line to receive punishing wrath from God. It merely implies that God was more than feeling sorry or showing displeasure. He was angry. And since no one can go to God, God came to them. Therefore, forgiveness must be legal. He is sovereign; sin is a rejection of His law; rebellion against His majesty. God wants to reconcile with them, but first, His wrath must be alleviated so that His love and mercy can flow freely to them.[6]

Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) tells us to cheer up; we have a mediator with the Father in heaven. This Mediator or Advocate is none less than Jesus the Anointed One, the righteous, the Holy One. Therefore, do not brood over sin, do not be driven to despair, but turn in confidence to our eternal advocate, Jesus the Anointed One, the Righteous One. We not only have the blood of the Lamb of God but the living Anointed One Himself. He is our Advocate with the Father. He settles everything between the soul and God; however, any believer grieves their heavenly Father by becoming an erring child.[7]

Robert Law (1860-1919) states that at this point, the paragraph the Apostle John started in 1:7 concludes after having outlined three relevant propositions concerning sin and its effects. A sin is an act for which the perpetrator is primarily responsible. Whether their actions contain more or less of the sinful elements of wrongdoing — rejection of Light, treason to God, their neighbor, or themselves – their sinful tendencies will be the direct cause of the sin existing. And if they say that it’s not their fault, they are the victim; their error is worse than ignorance – they led themselves astray into darkness.

Without any doubt, says Law, the Apostle has in view the doctrine of those who say that they are “spiritual,” therefore, they are free from sin because sin only applies to the flesh. But this heresy appears in various forms even today. For the modern materialist, like the ancient Manichee,[8] sin is a question of physiology; moral depravity is only a manifestation of a bodily disorder. Or the evil in the world is due to the social environment, which results from inadequate education and corrupt institutions. Against all such theories, John raises a single word – sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”[9]

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) speaks about the objection to the doctrine of limited atonement. We find that there are passages that also teach that the Anointed One died for the whole world.[10] Any complaints to these passages used as doctrine proceed on the unwarranted assumption that the word “world” means “the entire human race.” But it is perfectly evident from Scripture that the term “world” has a variety of meanings, as reading of many passages will prove.[11]

When applied to people, it also appears that it does not always include all individuals;[12] in some of these passages, it cannot possibly denote all people. If it had that meaning in John 6:33, 51, and here in verse two, it would follow that the Anointed One gives life to all humanity, that is, saves them all. Even those raising objections would not believe that.[13] Berkhof says that Jesus died so that anyone in the world can come to Him for salvation, not that He will save everyone regardless of their actions. In John’s Gospel, it is clear “that whoever believes in Him.”[14]

Like Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), some theologians have trouble with John’s statement in verse one that God forgave our sins because Jesus the Anointed One is our Advocate. They point to verse two, where it says He removed our sins by His sacrifice and the shedding of His blood. They conclude that this is foreign to John’s Gospel and is part of pastoral theology, as well as the phrase, “for the whole world.”[15] There seems to be a disconnect in their minds between Jesus’ ministry here on earth and in heaven. John is saying that we have someone to plead our case for the forgiveness of sin before God based on what He did while on earth. He is both our Redeemer and Advocate.

Rev. Priestly L. Greville (1891-1976) says that by the Apostle John using the term “world,” he is stressing the fact that God’s plan of salvation does not include an “Operation Select” plan but an “Operation Humanity” strategy. There is no such thing as limited redemption restricted to particular groups or types of sinners. He points to John Calvin as one who promoted this idea through predestination.[16] John Wesley vigorously opposed this “dreadful dogma” and showed that the Gospels and the whole of the Final Covenant are against it.[17] Wesley did not reject predestination outright. He was against the doctrine that God elected specific individuals for salvation and others for damnation. He understood that Christian orthodoxy insisted that salvation was only possible by the sovereign grace of God. Greville quotes the lyrics from one of Charles Wesley’s hymns:

O for a trumpet voice,

One all the world to call,

To bid their hearts rejoice

In Him who died for all!

For all my Lord was crucified,

For all, for all my Savior died.[18]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) mentions that following the early church era down to the third century, they had no images, only signs. That’s why the drawings in the Roman catacombs are not a cultural language but sketches. They point to redemption rather than symbolizing it. However, these drawings and paintings became beatified into icons, leading to further representations of the Anointed One, the Cross, the Disciples, and others into sacred images. Before long, the illustrations of redemption faded from the scene, and everything focused on these images.[19]


[1] Findlay, G. G. (1909), Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 114-115.

[2] The Didache meaning “Teaching” is the short name of a Christian manual compiled circa 90 AD. The full title is The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Some Christians thought Didache was the inspired Word of God, but the church rejected it when making the final decision which books to include in the New Testament.

[3] Didache, 4:14,14:1

[4] Matthew 18:18

[5] Gore, C. (1920). The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 82

[6] Bailhache, Clement Meacher: The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., p. 257

[7] Cocke, A. R. (1895). Studies in the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 25

[8] A Manichee is a follower of the dualistic religious system of Manes, (A Babylonian prophet born in 216 AD and died in 274 AD) and the founder of Manichaeism) a combination of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark, matter being regarded as dark and evil.

[9] Law, Robert (1909). The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 131

[10] John 1:29; 3:16; 6:33,51; Romans 11:12,15; 2 Corinthians 5:19

[11] Luke 2:1; John 1:10; Acts of the Apostles 11:28; 19: 27; 24: 5; Romans 1:8; Colossians 1:6

[12] John 7:4; 12:19; 14:22; 18:20; Romans 11:12, 15

[13] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology p. 333

[14] John 3:15

[15] Bultmann, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 23

[16] Calvin, John: Institutes, op. cit., Ch. 21, Sect. 5

[17] Wesley, John, Predestination Calmly Considered, ⁋88

[18] Wesley, Charles, “Let earth and heaven agree, Angels and men be joined,” 1742

[19] Wilder, Amos N, Early Christian Rhetoric, op. cit., p. 117

About drbob76

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