WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXI) 10/06/21

3:12 We are not to be like Cain, who belonged to Satan and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing wrong, he knew very well that his brother’s life was purer than his.

Lias goes on to say that any intention to seek one’s benefit at the expense of others is irreconcilable. And since John is writing to Christians, it makes such thinking even more irresponsible. Lias also admonishes that John is warning against two tendencies that have no place in the mind of God. A person who is either too shortsightedly or longsightedly selfish. They either squander whatever means they have as soon as they get it, or they carefully arrange to store it up for themselves in order to enjoy prosperity and power in years to come while others suffer. The stingy person despises the squanderer, and both should be unfamiliar attitudes for any Christian. Cain illustrates such tendencies by bringing the least expensive gift to God as an offering and then murdering his brother to take possession of all Abel worked so hard to acquire.[1] God forbid that any of God’s children would give up being a living sacrifice in service of God by attempting to hurt some dedicated believer to take their prominent position in the congregation.

Theodore Zahn (1838-1933) believes that because the Apostle John knew there were some in the circle of those who would read this epistle who thought you could be righteous without practicing strict holiness and avoiding sin, he needed an example. So, with an eye toward the contrast between Godly righteousness and self-righteousness, John describes a person who perfects themselves and those who do not bother with sanctification as vipers in the devil’s nest.[2]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) states that the whole aim of the Apostle John’s message he received from the Word of life that he saw, gazed upon, and handled: that is, we must love one another. The whole aim of that which was revealed by the Anointed One, in life and death, is to save mankind from selfishness and lead them to self-sacrifice. In other words, to awaken in them, love one for another. The message is light; its fruit is love. Had sin never entered into the world, had humanity never needed grace, then righteousness would have been the mold in which a person’s life was formed. But the introduction of sin made grace a necessity. This grace was the channel for the outflow of divine love. Therefore, love coming to us, saving us, and putting us before God on a new foundation that places upon us the obligation of having our whole conduct based on love, and love consistently exceeds righteousness.[3]

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) writes that this is the only time the Apostle John explicitly references the Book of Genesis. In Dodd’s mind, John would show the relevance of this story later on.[4] As such, Adam and Eve’s sons become representatives of the evil world in which God’s children must live.[5] It seems odd that when a known Christian falls into sin, the world’s judgment is swift and unmerciful. But when a sinner commits the same offense of God’s law, they pass it off as a flawed character. So, beware of how the world judges your words, actions, and attitude.

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) sees the Apostle John describing the opposite of love in Cain’s murderous behavior. Bultmann is also curious why a question is raised concerning the motive of Cain’s repulsive deed – “why did he murder him?” Could it be that Cain simply hated Abel? Or was it because Abel found favor in God’s eyes, and he did not? In any case, in today’s world, Cain’s act would be declared a “hate crime,” which John describes to be the same as taking another person’s life.[6] When Christians act this way toward each other, it can also be called robbery because they steal your joy, peace, and loyalty to God’s Word.

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) points out that by saying Cain belonged to the Evil One, he had in mind that Jesus charged the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Jewish leaders with having the devil as their promoter. Thus, when our Lord called Satan “a murderer from the beginning,” John uses it to reference Cain.[7] But the Apostle had more than Abel’s murder in mind. In the next verse, he explains that this same attitude exists in the world. In other words, Christians should realize that they are Abels living in a world full of Cains.

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) says that this story of Cain and Abel reflects the struggle between good and evil going on in the universe and is reenacted in the moral battles each person fights. The imagined disgust evil has for what’s good is reflected in daily life’s moral and psychological counterparts.[8] We need not read the conflict between Cain and Abel to understand this; turn on the news at the end of the day, and there will be numerous stories that establish this principle. Morals and ethics are constantly being eroded so that the guilty feel less convicted of their shameful acts. But even more critical, the same erosion is going on among the people of God.

Donald Burdick (1917-1996) states that genetically Cain was a son of Adam, but spiritually and morally, he was an offspring of the devil. It was evident from the works of Cain, they were done with evil intentions. Burdick also points out that the Greek verb sphazō, translated as “slew” KJV; “murder” NIV, was often used to describe the slaughter of an animal by cutting its throat.[9] So, we can imagine that after Abel cut the throat of the lamb he brought to God as an acceptable sacrifice, Cain took the same knife to cut his brother’s throat. But that’s not the end of the story. John then infers in the next verse that the world will treat us the same way they treated our Savior. Only, instead of cutting his throat, they hung Him up to die.

Raymond E. Brown (1921-1986) takes what the Apostle John says here about Cain and Abel as representative of the secessionists (the devil’s brood) and the faithful (God’s children). But instead of interpreting this literally, it is best understood and applied as a figure of speech. Behind all of it are the forces of good and evil. The devil is the lead henchman of his gang and Jesus, the shepherd of His flock. You can tell which person belongs to whom by their actions.[10] The presence of original sin is evidenced by the youngest of children. You need not teach them to get angry, envious, spiteful, lying, cheating, or disobedient. It comes naturally to them. Parenting is a matter of teaching them the opposite. The Ten Commandments were all written to show the children of Israel the opposite of what they were doing. Years ago, most of the preaching was on “what not to do.” But, thank the Lord, it is preached now as “what to do.”

Rudolph A. Culpepper (1930-2015) says that the clearest sign of sin is the lack of love. The opponents have shown that they do not love the community; the elder charges because they departed from it. The Johannine love command is significantly more restricted than the Sermon on the Mount, which commands love for one’s enemies.[11] The new commandment required love for “one another,” which means love for others within the Christian community.

According to Culpepper, those who did not love their Christian brothers and sisters were like Cain, who killed his brother. Those who live by this command, however, have already crossed over from spiritual death into eternal life. Such love is, therefore, an essential quality of the life that God gives to His own. That love is most clearly manifest in Jesus’ act of laying down His life for others. Believers, therefore, ought to live “just as” Jesus did. Specifically, the love command requires one who sees a brother or sister in need and shares what they lack with them. Love is not just a feeling. Therefore, it is the faithful believer’s lifestyle.[12]

Wendell C. Hawley (1930-) calls Cain a “brother-hater.” It didn’t start when they brought their offerings to honor God; it was already in Cain’s heart to kill his younger brother.[13] Could we have here the original example of what we later see in Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Saul and David? I can remember as a young boy in my father’s strict Pentecostal church, where people tried to “out-holy” one another through abstinence, even to not chewing gum. It was also visible in the gifts of the Spirit when one member would quickly give an interpretation of tongues to be first. But what I never saw was one person trying to out-tithe or out-love others. It was also a sad case when, across town, people knew that the congregation in one church despised the assembly of another because they did not behave like them. God help us never to follow those examples.

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) says that this story of Cain presents someone overwhelmed with anger,[14] unrighteousness,[15] and deliberate disobedience,[16] in contrast to the “faithful” attitude of Abel.[17] How could Cain expect to come to God to present a few sheaves of grain with arrogance and have it accepted? Could it be that God turned him down more because of his attitude than his action?[18]


[1] Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 250-251

[2] Zahn, Theodore, The Writings of John, op. cit., p. 363

[3] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 135-136

[4] 1 John 3:15; see 1 John chapter 5

[5] Dodd, C. H., The Johannine Epistles – Moffatt, op. cit., p. 82

[6] Bultmann, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles – Hermeneia, op. cit., p. 54

[7] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., pp. 261-262

[8] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., pp. 259-260

[9] Burdick, Donald, The Epistles of John – Everyman’s, op. cit., pp. 56-57

[10] Brown, Raymond E., The Epistles of John – Anchor Bible, op. cit., p. 444

[11] Matthew 5:44

[12] Mays, J. L. (Ed.). (1988, Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 1293

[13] Hawley, Wendell C., 1-3 John – Cornerstone, op. cit., p. 354

[14] See 1 John 3:6

[15] Ibid. 3:7

[16] Cf. Jude 1:11

[17] Cf. Hebrews 11:4

[18] Smalley, Stephen S., 1,2,3 John – Word Biblical Commentary, op. cit., pp. 184-186

About drbob76

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