1 John 1:1-2:2


Perhaps there is more in this text than can be preached in one sermon. In the Nestle Greek text we have three paragraphs:

  1. Verses 1-4, the Word of Life;

  2. Verses 5-10, true fellowship requires adhering to the Truth about ourselves and God;

  3. 2:1-2, Jesus our Advocate.

This is a marvelous section of Scripture. Even if the preacher does not preach this entire text he will do well to study the entire selection. He might study the entire section and then use only 2:1-2 as his text.

The construction of verses 1-4 requires special comment. In Greek we have three sentences:

  1. The first runs to the middle of verse 3;

  2. The second is the second half of verse 3;

  3. The third is all of verse 4.

KJV, NKJV, and NASB cover this whole section in two sentences. Also the RSV. AAT has five. TEV, NIV, and JB have four sentences. In Greek the first sentence begins with four relative clauses which are the objects of the main verb. Verse 2 is a parenthesis which looks back to verse 1 and also looks ahead to verse 3 and has the manifestation of Christ as its main theme. Verse 3 begins with a relative clause which recalls those in verse 1 and is also the object of the main verb which finally appear in the word "we proclaim." This verb has been anticipated in the parenthesis by the use of the same word. The sentence ends with a purpose clause. The NIV has moved the verb "we proclaim" up into verse 1. Note how AAT, NEB, and TEV have recast the four verses to overcome what might appear to be difficult syntax.

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The neuter accusative relative pronoun "that which" occurs three times in this verse and once in verse 3. It refers, of course, to Jesus Christ. Why the neuter gender?

Marshall: The writer uses the neuter form here, although the Greek word 'logos' is masculine. Elsewhere too he uses the neuter when a masculine form would have been expected. Here the use of the neuter suggests that the writer has in mind the Christian message which was incarnated in Jesus.

The verb "was from" occurs here and again in verse 2. It reminds us of John 1:1 where it denotes the pre-existence of Christ. It looks back into eternity, not forward in time as at Genesis 1:1. Note the gradation of the verbs denoting the senses: "heard, seen, beheld, touched." The first two are perfect tense, denoting lasting results. The third and fourth are aorist noting the true historicity of Jesus. The "we" in these verbs is the apostles. "Seen" denotes the contemplative beholding of a spectator. The word "theater" is derived from it. "Touched" denotes not only touching but investigating. The false teachers of John's day were misleading people about Jesus. John assures his readers that he and his fellow apostles were truly in a position to know about Him. How do we construe the last phrase? NIV reads: "This we proclaim concerning the Word of life." TEV begins verse 1 thus: "We write to you about the Word of life." NEB reads: "Our theme is the word of life." AAT ends verse 1 thus: "We're writing about the Word of life." KJV, NKJV, and NASB leave it as it reads in the Greek: "concerning the Word of life." 

Kretzmann: The Word of Life is his theme.
Stott: This word of life is the general subject of the apostolic proclamation.

Lenski says that the four relative pronouns are made plain by this phrase.

Marshall: What he is describing is 'concerning the Word of life.'

Does logos here mean the same as in John 1:1, the person of Jesus, or does it here mean "message." Most of the translations capitalize it, identifying it with the person of Christ as in John 1:1. We agree with those translations and commentators who identify it with logos in John 1:1. If that is so then "life" is appositional genitive. The logos is the Life. The apostles heard, saw, beheld, handled the very Life of the eternal God. That was possible because He became incarnate. Jesus is the very source, embodiment, and substance of eternal life. The articular "life" will occur twice more in the next verse.

1 John 1:2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

As mentioned above, this verse is parenthetical.

Marshall: Verse 2 forms a parenthesis which the writer inserted to make clear beyond all possibility of mistake that the life to which John bears witness was revealed by God in the historical person of Jesus.

It begins with "appeared" and ends with the same verb. This verb occurs with high frequency in John's Gospel and in this Epistle, almost always with reference to Christ. In the Johannine Corpus it is used of the appearing of the Lord at both His first and second Coming. Twice in this verse it is said that the Life appeared and was manifested. Then the writer repeats "we have lastingly seen." It made a deep impression on them. They saw the Life. Now he adds two verbs: "we testify and we declare to you." What? The Life, the eternal Life, which was close to the Father (from eternity). And, once more,  "the Life was manifested" and now he adds "to us." The very eternal Life, embodied in Christ, appeared to the apostles.

1 John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

The relative clause recapitulates verse 1. John repeats two of the verbs used here. Now comes "we proclaim" for the second time. It denotes a declaration from the viewpoint of the declarer.  "Also to you" makes the thought of total fellowship complete. We have no less of the Gospel that did the apostles.

Now follows a purpose clause. Again the equality of fellowship is emphasized by the words "you too." This is made even stronger by the use of "with us." "Fellowship" means joint participation in the Life, the eternal Life, made manifest in Jesus.

The beginning of the last part of this verse is translated: KJV and NKJV: "And truly." NASB: "And indeed." Moule: "Yes, and . . . " We are reminded here of Jesus' prayer at John 17:21, the unity of the Trinity and the Church. This is truly the Communion of Saints.

Kretzmann: By faith the Christians are not only united in an association holding the same tenets and held together by the same profession, but they thereby become members of the body of Christ and enter into intimate relationship with God the Father Himself.
Bengel: So that He Himself is ours, He in us, and we in Him.
Lenski: In verses 6-7 the true fellowship is set over against the false claim of fellowship with God. Cerinthus repudiated the testimony of the apostles regarding the Logos and the efficacy of his blood, and thus scorned fellowship with John and with any of the apostles. Cerinthus claimed fellowship with God without the cleansing blood of Jesus; for him only a man died on the cross . . . Apart from Jesus Christ no man is in fellowship with God.

Exactly. Look at John 14:6.

1 John 1:4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Rienecker: 'This' could be a reference to the entire contents of the letter or it refers to the apostolic message in verses 1-3.

"We" denotes the apostles. Now follows a purpose clause. On "joy" look at John 15:11; 3:29; 16:24; 17:13. Jesus sincerely desires the full joy of the Christian. And the Christian does have it by faith in Jesus. It is a fact, not just a pious objective. Heretics, like Cerinthus, who deny the very Gospel, do not have complete joy. Here KJV and NKJV read: "Your joy." RSV, TEV, NIV, NASB and AAT read "Our joy." NEB is clearer: "The joy of us all." 

In the Nicene Creed we speak about the "goodly fellowship of the Prophets." Here we have it. The joy of all Christians of all generations is complete and total. It is by faith. We don't always experience and feel it. But it is there. Our full joy makes us exclaim: "Oh that we were there!!" 

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Here begins a new paragraph. "Message" denotes the revelation about God Himself. "Heard" for the third time. Compare verse 1 and 3. How often does not God tell us to listen and hear! The apostles truly and effectively heard the message. "Declare" denotes a declaration from the standpoint of the hearer.

The remainder of this verse is the theme of the remainder not only of our text, but of the whole of 1 John. A statement is made positively and negatively. God is absolutely Light and absolutely not darkness. We have figurative language which opens the whole secret of the nature of God and salvation to us.

Lenski: The very being of God is absolute light. This is one of God's transitive attributes, like his omnipotence and his love, ever reaching out from God, not merely resting quiescent in him. . . John nowhere defines 'light' nor can we furnish an adequate definition. Christ is called 'the light of the world' meaning the saving light that delivers us from the darkness . . . Light in God, we thus venture to add, is righteousness, holiness in the absolute sense. The whole revelation of God in the Word, in particular all that his Son has revealed of him shows him as light in the sense of truth, righteousness.
Kretzmann: Light is purity, holiness; He is the source of all true knowledge, wisdom, happiness, and holiness . . . As light is the symbol of purity, goodness, and perfection, so, on the other hand, darkness symbolizes ignorance, sinfulness, misery, corruption.
Stott: Of the statements about the essential Being of God, none is more comprehensive that GOD IS LIGHT. It is His nature to reveal Himself, as it is the property of light to shine; and the revelation is of perfect purity and unutterable majesty . . . the miserable errors of the heretics were due to their ignorance of God's ethical self-revelation as Light . . . in whom IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL, no secrecy, no hiding in the shadows.
What light is to the natural eye, God is to the spiritual. As he here calls God Light, so 2:8, he calls Christ Light.

Verse 6 to 2:2 is an exposition of what was said in verse 5. Note that verse 6 begins a subparagraph in Greek.

1 John 1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

In verses 6, 8 and 10 we have the very words of the heretics quoted, in each case immediately following the "if." In verses 6-10 we have five instance of conditional sentences. All five are instances of what classical Greek calls "present general conditions." In each case add the word "ever" to protasis and "always" to apodosis to bring out the axiomatic nature of each sentence. What is said holds true in every case.

In verses 6, 8 and 10 we have something similar to quotations marks in English.

In verse 6 we have the first claim of the heretics. They claimed to have fellowship with Christ, but lived in the ignorance of heresy. John says that this amounts to lying and not doing (living with) the truth. Here "truth" denotes the reality, the truth, the genuine way which is found only in God, in Christ, in the Gospel. RSV renders "while we walk in darkness." TEV has "yet at the same time live in the darkness." In verses 6-10 the "we" is not only the apostles but the apostles and all Christians.

Lenski: Ethics are included, but first of all John has in mind doctrine and faith, here false doctrine as opposed to the true.
Bengel: 'To say' is to persuade one's self and others, to think, to profess, to pretend.
Stott: Some of the early Gnostics were guilty of blatant antinomianism. They thought of the body as a mere envelope covering the human spirit and maintained that man's spirit was inviolable; it could not be contaminated by the deeds of the body. Others, according to Irenaeus, taught that if a man had become truly 'spiritual' he had progressed beyond the possibility of any defilement . . . We are right to be suspicious of those who claim a mystical intimacy with God and yet 'walk in darkness' of error and sin.
Kretzmann: If we are addicted to sin, if we in any way serve sin and corruption, then our entire life is a lie.

1 John 1:7 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, purifies us from all sin.

Here is the cure for the heresy of verse 6. The first "light" is the Light which comes to us through Jesus Christ in the Word. He is the Word. He is the Light. To walk in the Light denotes the faith relationship, covering both justification and sanctification. Look at Galatians 2:20.

The second occurrence of "light" in this verse denotes the attribute of God mentioned in verse 5. When we walk in this Light we have fellowship, oneness, unity, not only with Father and Son, verse 3, but also with each other. Here we have the Communion of Saints.

And what's more, the blood of Jesus, His Son, constantly cleanses (forgives and removes the stain) us from all sin. Both natures of Christ (blood and Son) are found in this verse. Light means total and joint salvation for all Christians. Not just some sins, but all of them are forgiven and cleansed.

Marshall: To live in the light is to live in the same way as God himself . . . They cannot have fellowship with God unless they have fellowship with other Christians. . . As Christians who walk in the light we may be conscious of sin, yet this does not prevent our fellowship with God, for God himself removes our sin.
Kretzmann: In spite of the weaknesses and imperfections of this earthly life, in spite of the many accusations and temptations on the part of the devil and the children of this world, we have forgiveness of sins . . . Always, every day, without ceasing, we have forgiveness of sins.
Stott: God is in the light because He is always true to Himself and His activity is consistent with His nature . . . Two results of this are given. First, we have fellowship one with another . . . The second result of walking in the light is, etc.

Light is God's attribute. For us it is a gift. We constantly receive it from Him.

Lenski: We observe that in the New Testament the word 'fellowship' is used only in a good or sacred sense and is not used with reference to evil and to those outside.

1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Here is the second claim of the Gnostics. They have no sin. What is the result? Self-deception which is the worst of all delusions. The result of this claim -- The Gospel, the true Reality, the Light, finds no place in the self-deluded person. Compare the second part of this verse with the second part of verse 6.

Bengel: John often embraces faith in the idea of truth, see 2:24.

NEB translates: "If we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and strangers to the truth." Some commentators think that this verse speaks of original sin as opposed to actual sin in verse 10. Stott thinks that the heretics were saying here that there was no sin in their nature, that the sinful nature has been eradicated.

Stott: John's affirmation is equally applicable today to those who deny the fact of guilt of sin by seeking to interpret it solely in terms of physiological, psychological, or social causes.
Kretzmann: What St. John here discusses is the heresy of perfectionism, the idea which is held by many people to this day, namely, that they can attain to such a perfect state in this world that they are completely free from sin in their own persons.
Marshall: The temptation to deny one's sin is common to both the non-Christian and the Christian.

We are all very much in danger of the sin mentioned here. Its consequences are disastrous.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

"If ever we are confessing our sins, He is always faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When David confessed his sin, Nathan forgave him promptly, though David's sins had been heinous. When you ask the people to confess their sins in church, you forgive them. No questions asked. Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, never put any restrictions on the confessor. If one of your members confesses murder, you promptly forgive him as Nathan forgave David. We are only acting in the stead and by the command of our Lord who is faith (He is true to His promises, look at 1 Corinthians 10:13) and just (His justice has been satisfied by the atonement of Jesus Christ, look at Romans 3:25-26).

Lenski: He is as righteous and just when acquitting the confessing believer for the sake of Christ's blood as when damning the non-confessing rejecter of Christ's blood.
Stott: He is faithful to forgive because He has promised to do so, and just because His Son died for our sins.
Bengel: Compare verses 8 and 10. The former is concerning the guilt of sin, which still remains. The latter is concerning the actual commission. By the former we deceive ourselves; by the latter we make him a liar . . . 'To forgive' means he takes away the guilt. 'To cleanse' means so that we sin no more.

1 John 1:10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Here we have the third contention of the heretics: "We have not sinned." 

Marshall: It is possible that there were people who both denied present sinfulness (verse 8) and past acts of sin (verse 10): even if you claim not to sin now, you certainly sinned in the past, may be the thought in John's mind. Perhaps, however, we should regard the two claims as virtually identical; if so, John is making the point that those who make such claims do not merely deceive themselves (verse 8); they actually make God a liar (verse 10) by denying his verdict on men that they are sinners. Paul's statement that 'all have sinned' (Romans 3:23) is no isolated remark; it sums up the teaching of Scripture on the universality of sin.
Lenski: The claim 'not to have sin' is the same as the claim 'not to have been sinning' . . . The worst that we are doing by our false claim is really blasphemous: we are making God a liar! . . . . This truth and this light are the contents of 'his Word' and they come to us in 'his Word.' . . . The whole Word of God declares that we are sinners. It says so in a large number of places. From beginning to end it deals with us as with sinners . . . To have God's Word 'in us' is to hold it in truth, to be governed by it and by all it says to us sinners.

1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

The Nestle Greek text begins a new paragraph here but verses 1-2 are really a sort of summation to 1:5-10. Some think that these verses are to 1:10 what verse 7 is to verse 9 and what verse 9 is to verse 8.

John address his hearers with "my little children," truly a term of endearment. Jesus used this word at John 13:33 and John uses it seven times. We are told never to address each other as "father" (Matthew 23:9), but pastors should not hesitate to call Christians "children" (1 Corinthians 4:14,17; Galatians 4:19; 1 Timothy 1:2; Philemon 10; 2 John 4.)

The antecedent of "this" is verse 5-10 in particular. John says resist the beginnings. Don't let sin get a start.

Kretzmann: He reminds them of the necessity of showing their new spiritual nature in resisting sin . . . The result must be, of course, that Christians desist from sinning, that they do not permit sin to rule them, as Luther writes, that they refuse to be willing servants of sin, Romans 6:12,14.
Bengel: He warns them against wresting his discourse on reconciliation to a license for sinning.

By the way, in 1:4 John said: "We write these things," including the other apostles. Here he says: "I write these things," meaning only himself. What is said is very personal, from pastor to hearers. Thus it must be with us today. John is here warning against indifference toward sin and false security in sin. there is always the temptation (as Paul notes in Romans 6:1), when we've heard the Gospel, to be permissive toward sin since grace abounds much more than sin. The translations are interesting. AAT has "To keep you from sinning." KJV and NKJV read "That you may not sin." We think JB is not very good: "To stop you sinning." That implies that they were living in sin. That cannot be proved.

Now a new thought. The Word of God is furious toward the deliberate sinner. But it is utterly gracious toward the confessing sinner, no matter what his past has been. NEB, RSV, TEV, and NIV translate "but." We heartily agree with that. Never be permissive, which means to let the hearer sin to his own ruin. But do be evangelical toward the confessing and repenting sinner. Note there are no exceptions.

Jesus Christ is called our "Advocate" or Advocatus in Latin. AAT translates "One to plead for us." KJV, NKJV, JB, and NASB have "Advocate." Luther translates "Fuersprecher." The Holy Spirit is called our "Helper" and "Comforter" in John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7. Luther translates "Troester." 

Jesus does not make excuses for our sins nor does He deny them but He pleads for us on the basis of His own righteousness. That is why John calls Him "righteous." Look at Romans 8:34. Jesus is called "righteous" in Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14, contrasting the innocence of Jesus with the wickedness of those who crucified Him. Jesus is called "righteous" at 1 Peter 3:18. He died in the stead of the unrighteousness ones. We can comfort the confessing sinner with the imputed righteousness of Christ.

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

RSV and NASB indicate by punctuation that verses 1 and 2 are related.

"Atoning sacrifice" is very similar to the same word in Romans 3:25  "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement." During the last several generations there has been a debate about this word. Westcott and Dood claimed that in the Scriptures the word does not mean to quiet the wrath of God as it did in heathen Greek literature. They argued that it meant only to wipe out the guilt of sin. Therefore they suggested that this word be rendered "expiation" rather than "propitiation." But L. Morris and D. Hill have answered these two scholars. They have proved from the Old Testament that the word means both to quiet God's anger and to remove the guilt of sin. Of all our versions only RSV translates "expiation." KJV, NKJV, and NASB translate "propitiation." The other versions have avoided the use of both terms, probably for two reasons: "propitiation" and "expiation" mean very little to the modern reader, and the wish to avoid the debate about the meaning of the word. We let it up to the reader to decide for himself what the various versions mean: TEV reads "The means by which our sins are forgiven." NIV you have above. JB reads simply "The sacrifice." NEB has "The remedy for the defilement of our sins." AAT reads "He has paid for our sins" and then this footnote: "By His sacrifice Jesus wipes out our sins and changes God's anger to love." 

We remind ourselves of two things:

  1. The first two lines of Luther's hymn found at Lutheran Worship #236 read: "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, turned away God's wrath forever." See The Lutheran Hymnal #311. If Luther were alive today he would surely agree with KJV, NKJV, NASB and Morris and Hill.

  2. Secondly, he here translated "Und derselbige ist die Versoehnung fuer unsere Suende." 

Whether we translate the final phrase "for the sins of the whole world" as do KJV, NIV and RSV or "but also for the whole world" as do NKJV and AAT makes little difference so long as we understand the word "world" to include all human beings as at 2 Corinthians 5:19. It is well known, of course, that Augustine and Calvin maintained that "world" here denotes only the elect and not all human beings.

As we mentioned earlier in these Notes perhaps the preacher might use only 2:1-2 as his text after he has carefully studied the entire pericope.

The denial of sin in our day can be as sneaky and diabolical as Satan himself. For example, a person commits a crime in a rage and then finds a psychiatrist who declares that the accused was under the influence of temporary insanity. He gets off with a light sentence. Or a person gets a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty, a form of insanity. Rather than endure the marriage (that they call too burdensome) they divorce with impunity, they think. Or a person becomes addicted to alcohol and then claims it's only a disease. Or in the face of contracting AIDS homosexuals refuse to abstain from their sin. They claim that their addiction is God's fault. He made them that way, they claim. Or the evolutionist will deny the plain statements of Scripture concerning creation on the basis of following what he calls true science. So it goes.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 91-96. Used with permission.

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