NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXXXV) 03/10/23
5:13 I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God. I write so that you will know that you have eternal life now.
Called a great and rare spiritual thinker, Frederick Denison Maurice (1807-1873) writes that we’ve reached the conclusion of John’s epistle. The words, “These things have I written,” indicate that the Apostle John is about to explain its general purpose, if not a summary of its contents. Thus, much is evident in the first reading. His object was not to make proselytes of those outside the Christian Church. Instead, he addressed himself as “those who believed on the name of the Son of God,” baptized in that Name, publicly confessed that Name, the Name that opened them to the charge of blasphemy from Jewish rulers and scribes; it was the Name when associated with the person of Jesus the Crucified, which excited the contempt or hostility of the worshippers of the Greek idols. All acts of united worship among the disciples, all their sufferings, recalled this Name.
But if they did not need to be convinced of its worth or power, what good was an Apostolical Epistle? John answers: “That you may know that you have eternal life and believe on the name of the Son of God.” You will wonder at the last clause. It sounds like he proposed converting them to a faith they already possessed. Consider the first clause before determining that it is meaningless. It is not commonplace: “You have eternal life.” Not “you may have it; sometime later, this unspeakable blessing may be bestowed on you, or on such of you as deserve it.” But, “it is yours now. The gift has been sent to you.” Many Christians of John’s era and ours today are startled by the complexity rather than the simplicity of this assertion because it differs so much from their formal faith.
Without overlooking crucial points, Johann Eduard Huther (1807-1880) notes that many commentators conclude this verse as a concluding section, incorrectly referring “these” to the whole Epistle. That this verse belongs to the segment starting at verse twenty-three in chapter three is shown by the idea of “life eternal,” which refers to what immediately precedes, and also by the concept of “believing in the name of the Son,” refers back verse twenty-three in chapter three. Besides, we must observe that verses fourteen and fifteen correspond to the thought with which the preceding section ended. Accordingly, “these” is not referred to the whole Epistle but to verses six to twelve, which reaches its climax in the thought, “The one who has the Son has life.”
The words “that you may know that you have eternal life” reveal John’s goal in the preceding narrative. The certainty of eternal life is more necessary to the Christian’s mind since, like a hidden treasure, it is sometimes hidden from them as they struggle with Christian living. The possession of this life is conditioned by faith. John brings this out through an additional clause, which runs differently in various ancient manuscripts, but expresses the same thought. According to the probable reading, it connects with “I have written this to you . . . that you may know you have eternal life.”
With an inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) suggested that instead of “that you may know” in verse thirteen, it could read, “To awaken your belief and show you how to believe may solidify into knowing.” After all, eternal life is already deposited within you, to be unfolded and perpetuated in the infinite future. Thus, to believe and know becomes a permanent and realizing belief. Therefore, intuitive assurance is a ground to believe in the reality of the known thing.
In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) denotes that verse thirteen seems like an anticipatory close of the Epistle: and its terms appear to correspond to those used in chapter one, verse four. This view is far more probable than that it should refer only to what has occurred since verse six. It is still less likely that the concluding portion of the Epistle begins with this verse, as Bengel scholars say. Alford says that the text is found only in specific versions and is considered the “fons lectionum” for the argument.
As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) states that the Church is the depository and guardian of the Christian faith, and to her, all the epistles are directed. For her, the Gospels were written to cheer her on her heavenly journey and brighten her path; the promises are suspended over her like stars in the night. Therefore, this epistle is written for believers and addressed to believers. Such is the Apostle Paul’s custom in all his epistles.
The Apostle James writes to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, and the Apostle Peter to “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Thus, Paul, John, Peter, and James agree by writing their epistles for the churches and sending them to the churches. From this, we draw the following conclusions, notes Graham: that it is the duty and privilege of those who receive these Apostle’s letters to read and understand them for the Gospels, the Epistles, and, indeed, the entire Word of God, are the property of the whole redeemed church of God, which no one can deprive her of without offending God.
With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) feels that what the Apostle John is writing in verse thirteen may refer to the contents of the whole Epistle or what immediately precedes. The object is the same, and perhaps, on the whole, occupying the place it does, it is better to take it as being spoken of the whole Epistle. The object of John was to show them the fundamental nature of the Gospel, as giving everlasting life, or, what is better, giving them the grounds of assurance and faith. Either to provide them with the knowledge of, impress upon them that they have eternal life, call to their minds the privileges within their reach, or, more definitely, assure them that the gift is theirs.
If the words “that you may believe on the name of the Son of God” are to be retained in the text, then it would seem as if the object could not be to give them that which they possessed already, and this is more likely to be the accurate interpretation if, instead of “in order to believe.” we are to read “to believe,” since some suppose that this is an interpolation. Why should John try to give them that which they already have?
It would be logical to suggest that John impresses on them the privilege of everlasting life, which is within their reach due to the knowledge of those principles, unless we look at the faith spoken of as the object of the Epistle as a higher degree of confidence following on assurance. But there is nothing in the phrase or the context to make such an interpretation sufficiently necessary to be reasonable. John often referred to the grounds of our understanding that we know God. It would seem as if this would be stated here as one of the particular objects in writing, whether we take it to refer to the whole Epistle or the part immediately preceding it. But, if the other reading is actual, deriving a logical and consistent meaning is complex. John has written to believers that they may have the assurance of life and believe more firmly in the Son of God.
Cyrus Augustus Bartol (1813-1900), a pastor, author, and hymnist, clarifies that eternal life is not limited in the Scriptures to God as an incommunicable attribute or essence, nor to the angels within the walls of heaven as something conveyed and shared with humanity. Instead, eternal life is a life of spiritual nature, feeling and affection, and moral and religious principles. Indeed, in the Final Covenant, many phrases might be translated as either eternal or spiritual life; for example, “no murderer has eternal life,” that is, has no spiritual, holy, religious, or divine life, “abiding in them.” Moreover, eternal life is not simply endless because we never speak of the devil and his angels as having eternal life. However, our theology suggests they have a life that existed contemporaneously with that of Divinity and Angels. Therefore, the destiny of the wicked does not include enjoying eternal life, although they have the same unbounded prospect of existence as the righteous.
Theirs is a state of eternal or spiritual death. Eternal life in God is the life of absolute goodness, purity, righteousness, and truth. Eternal life in man is the life of justice and love, of fidelity in all his relations. It is a right, holy, and becoming life. When we rise above selfish and trifling cares into noble thought and generous feeling, our life, so far from having the character of an existence that endures or is to endure for a long succession of time, seems no longer concerned with time at all, but to have risen above it. Days and weeks are no longer the terms of our existence. Nevertheless, thoughts, emotions, dictates of conscience, impulses of kindness, and aspirations of worship make eternal life what it is. It’s because we feel there is something fixed and unchangeable in them, which neither time can alter, age wrinkle, the revolutions of the world waste, nor the grave bury, but the eternity of God alone embrace and preserve.
In that life, God’s perfect Spirit is involved as the quality of permanence. The pure, loving, righteous, and devoted heart feels its imperishableness. Believers secretly whispered it as great assurance. The Spirit bears witness with it to its incorruptible nature. Even here, rising above the earth, it will vindicate its superiority to all material as it drops the flesh and takes the celestial body. But the heavenly and indissoluble life begins in this world. Jesus the Anointed One had it here. Who thinks of Him as more immortal after His resurrection and ascension than before?
Jesus the Anointed One, the only perfect possessor on earth, is accordingly the great and incomparable communicator of this eternal life. The theme is perhaps too great for the human mind to comprehend, nor is it even by the light of inspiration so cleared up that we can hope for an entire agreement respecting it among equally wise and good believers. By all means, we should, by motives and sanctions, hopes and fears of the Gospel, try to awaken the moral and spiritual nature in our and others’ hearts than that we should exercise the fancy of predicting the fortunes to arise in the coming ages.
After checking the text closely, Richard Tuck (1817-1868) recalls the explanation the Apostle John gives of his purpose in writing his Gospel. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.” “Life” is John’s great word, and by it, he means that life as a child of God, in loving and obedient relations with the eternal Father, which is seen in His Anointed Son, and becomes ours as by faith we are linked with that Son to receive His life. When we are made children, we gain possession of three rights or privileges, and we ought to thankfully use them.
- (I) The right to eternal life – The right to live a higher kind of life than can be attained by other humans ‒ a spiritual life, a human-divine life like that which the Lord Jesus lived is precisely described as eternal life.
- (II) The right to expect answers to prayer – These prayers relate to the believer’s life, circumstances, and needs.
- (III) The right to intercede for others – The fact that there is a limit to Christian intercession asserts the right to intervene with those limits. 
After observing the Apostle John’s attention to detail, John Stock (1817-1884) reminds us that the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” and “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” so that we, who sat in the shadow of death through sin, might hear the voice of the Son of God and live. It allows us to hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which God has given us, as seen in His Son for His sake only, who lived, and died, and rose again for us, and ever lives and reigns; as all who believe of God in the Anointed One, and so they are one with Him and He with them. Therefore, the more we read the Scriptures, conforming our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to God’s will as expressed therein, and that only to please God and His glory, the more we grow in the assurance of hope.
 Maurice, Frederick Denison: The Epistles of St. John: A Series of Lectures on Christian Ethics, op. cit., pp. 284-285
 Cf. 1 John 3:21-22
 Cf. ibid. 2:21, 26
 Huther, Johann Eduard: Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles, Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 471-472
 Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 279
 See John 20:30ff
 Cf. 1 John 2:26 with 5:18
 Latin term for “reading source”
 Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 508
 Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., p 336
 Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 75
 1 John 3:15
 Romans 8:16
 Barton, C. A, The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 22, op. cit., 1 John 5:13, pp.135-136
 John 20:31
 1 John 5:13
 Ibid. 5:14-15
 Ibid. 5:16-17
 Tuck, Richard: The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary: (on an original plan), op. cit., pp. 338-339
 Exodus 34:27
 2 Timothy 3:16