By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XCI) 03/17/23

5:13 I write this letter to you who believe in God’s Son. I write so that you will know that you have eternal life now.

John’s desire for them is not that they may have faith in and receive but that having accepted; they may know that they have obtained and therefore continue to maintain eternal life in the present. That you may know means, both in word and tense, not that they may gradually grow in assurance but that they may possess here and now a certainty of the life they have received in the Anointed One. They had been unsettled by the false teachers and became unsure of their spiritual state. Throughout the letter, John gives them criteria (doctrinal, moral, social) to test themselves and others. His purpose is to establish their assurance. “This letter assures you that you already have eternal life.”[1]

Historical-critical method researcher, Catholic priest, and prominent Bible scholar Raymond Edward Brown (1928-1995) responds to the Apostle John’s words, “We are writing this,” with a question: “What is the reference for ‘this,’ literally ‘these things?’” Many scholars choose verses one to twelve here in chapter five or the last verse of that unit. The chief argument is that verse five spoke about “the person who believes that Jesus is God’s Son,” and verse twelve states, “The person who possesses the Son possesses life.” Those verses could explain why John would say, “1 have written these things to you so that you may know that you possess this eternal life – you who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.” Such an interpretation makes verse thirteen a transition to what follows.

However, others think that the apostle refers to everything written up to this point in verse thirteen. The parallel with the conclusion of John’s Gospel supports this[2] since he refers to the whole Gospel. Also,  “We are writing this[3] includes verse thirteen, which looks ahead to all that follows because John adds, “so that you may know that you possess this eternal life.” In the Greek word text, the adjective “eternal” comes at the end, separated by the verb from the noun it modifies. The emphatic position means that John refers to the “eternal life” mentioned in the preceding verse as the object of the same verb “to have, possess.” So, John is effectively saying, “I have written this to you who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son so that you may know that you possess this eternal life.”[4]

A competent dissector of Holy Scripture, Rudolph Alan Culpepper (1930-2019), remarks that since the Apostle John addresses his letter to believers, the emphasis is on knowing the life they already have. If the faithful recognize that they already have eternal life, they will not be swayed by the appeals made by their opponents. The elderly apostle’s faithful adherents can also have confidence in prayer. When believers are so responsive to the guidance of the Spirit of truth that their prayers are in accord with God’s will, God hears them and grants their requests. This general assurance regarding confidence in prayer leads to the troublesome question of prayer for one who is sinning. So, Culpepper asks, “Who gives life, the one who prays or God?” Ultimately, of course, only God can give life.[5]

Brilliant New Testament Bible professor Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) notes that the Apostle John sums up what he has said so far, beginning in verse thirteen. The words “these things” refer to the entire letter but note that John writes the letter to Christians “who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son” for people who maintain constant faith in God’s Son. In an earlier chapter, he informed them of one of God’s commands: “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus the Anointed One.[6] John repeats the term name to indicate the complete revelation of God’s Son. Anyone who believes in (the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son receives forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

In this chapter, John explains his theme: “believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.” John combines the verbs to believe and to know in verse thirteen. By contrast, he concludes his Gospel with the words, “These [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, Son of God.[7] However, in verse thirteen, John adds the concept to know, namely, to know with certainty. When he writes, “so that you may know,” he does not mean “to come to know” but “to have assurance.” Believers have the assurance of eternal life and the right to be children of God.[8] [9]

As a convincing preacher and teacher, Wendall C. Hawley (1930) indicates that the Apostle John provides his reason for writing the epistle in verse thirteen. Remarkably, the wording is nearly identical to that found in his Gospel.[10] But there is a difference. Whereas the Gospel encourages the continuance of faith in God’s Son as the means to enjoying the divine life, the verse in the epistle affirms the possession of divine life for all who believe in God’s Son. In both cases, John wanted his readers to be sure that they knew they had eternal life. And this security is the basis for the other aim of John’s letter: that they would be full of joy.[11] [12]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) finds that having pointed out the clear difference between the authentic and false believer; John reiterates and applies the teaching of this section. In so doing, he states one of the purposes behind his epistle. All this has been written so his readers may be sure they “possess eternal life.” John aims to strengthen the faith of believers who belong to his community, even if, along the way, he has also been concerned (to refute those among and beyond his church members) that Christology was unorthodox. Therefore, John speaks in the present tense about faith in Jesus (supported by witnesses)[13] and the consequent gift of eternal life through Him.

It is also essential to know that verse thirteen is transitional in that it looks back to the subject matter in verses five to twelve and provides a summary. Several commentaries and versions make a break after verse twelve. However, the contents of verse thirteen, with its reference to the now-familiar topics of believing in God’s Son and possessing eternal life, suggest that this verse belongs to the preceding passage rather than the one which follows, where verse fourteen introduces the new topic of prayer. The inclusion confirms this suggestion in verses five and thirteen at the opening and closing of the present section, where there is a repeated allusion to faith in God’s Son.[14]

An insistent believer in Grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008), mentions that “these things” are often wrongly taken to refer to the whole epistle. But similar expressions in chapter two, verses one and twenty-six, to the immediately preceding material are valid here. John just wrote about God’s testimony to assure his readers that believers possess eternal life despite anything the antichrists have said. It may be pointed out that the assurance of one’s salvation always rests fundamentally and sufficiently on God’s direct promises to the believer.

In other words, one’s security rests on the testimony of God. After the comments “that you have eternal life,” most Greek manuscripts add, “and that you may believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.” Perhaps this statement seemed redundant to some early scribe or editor and was eliminated from his manuscript. But it prepares the ground for the discussion about prayer, which follows by inviting continued faith in God’s Son on the part of those who already have received eternal life through Him. Prayer is also an expression of trust in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.[15]

Inspired by Jesus’ words, “go into all the world,” Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) notes that the conclusion of this section and the entire body of the letter and its purpose in terms of eternal life and faith is expressed in verse thirteen. The Apostle John concludes his message by addressing his readers as those who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son. Therefore, just as the tone of the exposition was positive in the previous section,[16] with only four brief mentions of negative realities towards the beginning and the end,[17] the explanation is predominantly positive in the present passage.[18]

As a capable scriptural analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) states that we are fortunate that John shared his purpose for writing his Gospel with us.[19] In the same way, he summarizes his goal in the composition of this Epistle. He was writing to a church where conflicting teaching about the nature of Christian belief had arisen. Such a situation was calculated to make the members wonder whether they possessed eternal life; some who professed faith in Jesus as God’s Son must still have wondered whether they were right in their belief and whether their experience of eternal life was not a delusion.

Having demonstrated to the readers that eternal life is found only in Jesus the Anointed One,[20] John now sums it up by saying that what he has written should assure believers that they possess eternal life. John was writing not to persuade unbelievers of the truth of the Christian faith but rather to strengthen Christian believers who might be tempted to doubt the reality of their Christian experience and give up their faith in Jesus. Those who believe in the name of Jesus can be sure of their possession of eternal life.[21]

As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) notes that if his mission statement in verse thirteen did not fit the rest of his epistle, we might think that the reference to “these things” was mentioned only in verses eleven and twelve. But coming, as it does, in the concluding section and fitting the epistle’s purpose so well, we can scarcely doubt that the entire letter was in view. Moreover, John expresses his intention in terms reminiscent of his Gospel and supports this conclusion when the appended nature of chapter twenty-one in John’s Gospel is recognized. Nevertheless, verse thirteen here and in John 20:31 is followed by introducing new material before the book ends.

While verse thirteen uses many of the same words in similar phrases, the purpose is different. It is written to those who already believe in  God’s Son. There is no doubt that the content of faith is crucial. The significance and scope of that belief are gathered in the Johannine doctrine of “belief in the name,”[22] but the purpose is to ensure that those who believe may know they have eternal life. Here, the knowledge content is introduced by the Greek conjunction hoti (“that”). John confirms that those who believe rightly know they have eternal life.

This purpose is consistent with how his epistle is written, from beginning to end. John is determined to establish tests confirming believers’ status as God’s children whose lives manifest the character of the divine life that displays their source as God and is evidence of eternal life. The Christological test is also related because eternal life was revealed in Jesus the Anointed One, having come in the flesh.[23] So, to believe in the Son, to have the Son, is to have eternal life.[24] Indeed, there is life in His name for those who believe in His name.[25]

With a Jewish convert’s enthusiasm for the Christian Anointed One, Messianic writer David H. Stern (1935) believes that verse thirteen demonstrates that you have eternal life. You have it already, here and now, you who keep trusting in the person and power literally, “in the name” of God’s Son.[26] [27]

A warrior against boring preaching, John Phillips (1937-2010) states that the Apostle John knew the power in the name of the Lord. He uses the title Son of God, giving the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, His highest title ‒ woe to those who dare to downgrade the person of God’s beloved Son. By denying the incarnation, the heretics proved themselves to be unbelievers. John knew Jesus to be God’s Son; the Apostle Peter, the spokesman for the others, also confessed Him as the living God’s Son.[28]

Only an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent One could provide and administer salvation of eternal dimensions to be offered to all humanity throughout time. Only such a person could overcome all obstacles, hold in perfect balance and poise all the facts of each case, satisfy all the claims and demands of God’s throne, provide sufficient payment for all the enormous indebtedness of the race, and carry out God’s purposes in grace throughout all the unborn ages of eternities yet to be. That is why John wrote, “that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may believe on the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.”

[1] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., pp. 183-184

[2] John 20:31

[3] 1 John 1:4

[4] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 607-608

[5] Culpepper, Rudolph Alan: Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., pp. 1294-1295

[6] See 1 John 3:23 also John 1:12

[7] John 20:31

[8] Ibid. 1:12

[9] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, James and I-III John op. cit., pp. 359-360

[10] John 20:31

[11] 1 John 1:4

[12] Hawley, Wendall C., Tyndale Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 1-3 John, op cit., p.373

[13] 1 John 5:9-11

[14] Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 189-290

[15] Hodges, Zane C. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, op. cit., vol. 2, p.902

[16] 1 John 5:4-14

[17] Ibid. 5:4, 8a, 18, 20

[18] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 311

[19] John 20:31

[20] See 1 John 5:11ff

[21] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 243

[22] See John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 and 1 John 3:23

[23] 1 John 1:2; 4:2-3

[24] Ibid. 2:22-23; 5:11-12

[25] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[26] Cf. John 11:25-26

[27] Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition

[28] Matthew 16:15-17

About drbob76

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