1 John 1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Observation

  • John is proclaiming that which has been since the beginning.
  • John has seen things that were from the beginning.
  • John is proclaiming what he heard.
  • John is proclaiming what he has seen with his own eyes.
  • John is not giving hear say testimony. What he is talking about he has:
    • seem with his own eyes
    • heard with his own ears
    • touched with his own hands
  • John is proclaiming that which he has touched with his own hands.
  • John is proclaiming things concerning the word of life.
  • John is proclaiming so his readers may have fellowship with him.
  • Johns fellowship is with the Father and Jesus his son
  • John is writing this letter so his joy may be complete.
  • John is proclaiming the message he heard from Jesus.
  • The message is God is light and there is no darkness in Him.
  • If we walk in darkness and say we have fellowship with God, we lie.
  • What does it mean to walk in darkness?
  • If we walk in darkness and say we have fellowship with God we do not practice the truth.
  • If we walk in the light as Jesus is in the light we have fellowship with each other
  • If we walk in the light as Jesus is in the light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin
  • If we claim we do not have sin we are deceiving ourselves.
  • If we confess our sins Jesus will for forgive us our sin
  • If we confess our sins Jesus will cleanse us from all unrighteousness
  • If we say we have not sinned we are saying God is a liar
  • If we say we have not sinned God’s word is not in us.

Interpretation

The first 4 verses are very difficult to follow and understand. The thought process seems to be a series of short loosely connected thoughts. When I started studying these verses, I thought it was just me having a hard time following the passage. But after reading some commentaries I find others have the same problem. I understand this is some of the most trusted scholars find it difficult. This is not very good Greek. In fact J. L. Houlden noted that the first few verses of 1 John “can only be described as, formally at least, bordering upon incoherence” and “lapse into grammatical impossibilities.”* Understanding the prologue (first 4 verses) to 1 John is made more difficult by several parenthetical statements. This convoluted and somewhat circular progression of thought will be typical of the remainder of 1 John.

John does not identify himself as the author. Nor does he identify the audience. This has led some to conclude that this is a general letter to all the churches. However, John is addressing specific problems. That, plus the fact that this is not a clearly written epistle, suggests that it was written in hast and therefore to a specific congregation. John may have felt that he needed to get a letter to this congregation quickly.

Many scholars have suggested the use of the plural. e.g. we have see…, was made manifest to us…, our joy may be complete, etc. is a literary device to emphasize John’s apostolic authority. i.e. he is an apostle and is speaking for all of the apostles.

The author starts the epistle by saying he is proclaiming what he has seen, heard and touched. He is proclaiming the word of life. He claims to have heard, seen and touched the word of life. The emphasis is on life rather than word, making it clear his focus is on the life and ministry of Jesus. What he has seen, heard, and touched was Jesus. This is the very thing that was under attack as we will see later. And the use of plurals refer not only to him but also to the others.

The first words of the epistle reference back to the beginning. The beginning referred to here is the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry. However, in the Greek, it is done in such a manner as to unmistakable reference back to the Gospel of John 1:1. This is a set up to the rest of the letter in which John addresses the false teachers who were denying the significance of Jesus earthly life and ministry.

John states the purpose of his writing this epistle, so the readers may have fellowship with the apostles and that their (the apostles) joy may be complete.

Bottom line, the prologue to the epistle make two things clear, first John is writing about things he personally has seen and experienced and second, he is claiming apostolic authority.

John starts verse off verse 5 saying that God is light. This is not intended to be a description of God but more of an analogy or God’s morality. In context, John is referring to the moral nature of God. God is pure righteousness. In God there is not even a hint of evil or wrong. John then goes on to say that if we are evil and continue to sin we are not in fellowship with God. This theme is repeated throughout the epistle.

If we claim that we are good and that a just God could not send us to hell. We are deceiving ourselves. We do not understand goodness. We do not understand sin. We do not understand justice. We do not understand righteousness. We do not understand ourselves. And we do not understand God. We sin. We are not good. If we claim we have not sinned. Or, our sin is not that bad. We are saying God is a liar and there is evil in God. We blasphemy His name. And we have no fellowship with Him. But if we will confess our sins God will forgive us and remove the guilt of sin from us.

Application

John is witting the epistle for the benefit of the reader but he says that it so he may have fellowship with them and that his joy may be complete. One who loves Jesus wants His name proclaimed and Him to be honored and glorified. So there is a desire that others glorify him too. And in doing so we are in fellowship with each other and our joy is increased.

God is love. God is good. And we ask, “How can a good and loving God send people to hell?” But we forget God is also just. God is righteousness. And God’s goodness is pure. If we have sinned, even a little sin, once, we are committed treason against the King of everything. And the punishment for treason is death. But the truth of the matter is, we have not committed a little sin. We have not committed a sin only once. We sin continually and often and badly and intentionally. If you do not agree, then you are deceiving yourself. And you are calling God a liar. You are blaspheming. Yet another sin!

The good news is that God has not left us in an impossible situation. He has sent His son to die on a cross, to take the punishment for us. Then He rose from the dead just has He has raised us from the dead, and given us a new life with Him.

John says here that if we confess our sins God will forgive us of our sins. But there is a problem. I cannot even remember all my sins. Does that mean that I lose out? Does that mean I am destined for hell, because I can remember each and every sin I have committed? No! In Romans 8:26-27, Paul explains “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Praise be to God! Not only has he given us His son as a sacrifice for our sin, but He even helps us to confess our sins. Now that is a loving God!

* J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries; New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 45.

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