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1. Behold (idete). Lit., behold ye. The plural is peculiar. The usual form is the singular ide or ijdou. See John i. 29; xi. 3, etc.; iv. 35; xix. 26, 27. Elsewhere the plural is used of something actually visible (Gal. vi. 11). What manner of (potaphn). The word is of infrequent occurrence in the New Testament, but is found in all the Synoptists and in 2 Pet. iii. 11. Only here in John's writings. Originally it means from what country or race; then, of what sort or quality. It is used of the quality of both persons and things.
Hath bestowed (dedwken). Emphasizing the endowment of the receiver. Compare carizomai, from cariv grace, favor, which emphasizes the goodwill of the giver. See Gal. iii. 18; Philip. ii. 9; i. 29. That (ina). See on John xxv. 13.
The sons (tekna). Rev., better, children. See on John i. 12.
And such we are (kai esmen). Lit., and we are. Added by Rev., according to the best texts. A parenthetical, reflective comment, characteristic of John. See on 1 i. 2.
2. Beloved. See ii. 7.
Now are we and, etc. The two thoughts of the present and the future condition of God's children are placed side by side with the simple copula, and, as parts of one thought. Christian condition, now and eternally, centers in the fact of being children of God. In that fact lies the germ of all the possibilities of eternal life.
It doth not yet appear (oupw efanerwqh). Rev., more correctly, it is not yet made manifest. See on John xxi. 1. The force of the aorist tense is, was never manifested on any occasion.
What we shall be (ti esomeqa). "This what suggests something unspeakable, contained in the likeness of God" (Bengel).
But we know. Omit but.
When He shall appear (ean fanerwqh). Rev., correctly, if He (or it) shall be manifested. We may render either "if it shall be manifested," that is what we shall be; or, "if He," etc. The preceding ejfanerwqh it is (not yet) made manifest, must, I think, decide us in favor of the rendering it. We are now children of God. It has not been revealed what we shall be, and therefore we do not know. In the absence of such revelation, we know (through our consciousness of childship, through His promise that we shall behold His glory), that if what we shall be were manifested, the essential fact of the glorified condition thus revealed will be likeness to the Lord. This fact we know now as a promise, as a general truth of our future state. The condition of realizing the fact is the manifestation of that glorified state, the revealing of the ti ejsomeqa what we shall be; for that manifestation will bring with it the open vision of the Lord. When the what we shall be shall be manifest, it will bring us face to face with Him, and we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.
As He is (kaqwv estin). Strictly, just as. Rev., even as.
"As long as the festivity Of Paradise shall be, so long our love Shall radiate round about us such a vesture. Its brightness is proportioned to the ardor, The ardor to the vision; and the vision Equals what grace it has above its worth.
Dante, "Paradiso," iv., 37-42.
8. Every man that hath (pav o ecwn). A characteristic form of expression with John, containing "a reference to some who had questioned the application of a general principle in particular cases." Here to some persons who had denied the practical obligation to moral purity involved in their hope. See vv. 4, 6, 9, 10, 15, 23, 29; iv. 7; v. 1, 4, 18; 2 John 9. Hope. John's only reference to Christian hope. The phrase used here, to have the hope upon one, is unique in the New Testament. Compare ejp' aujtw eqnh ejlpiousin "on Him shall the Gentiles hope" (Romans xv. 12): hjlpikamen ejpi Qew zwnti "we have hoped on the living God" (1 Tim. iv. 10). On the force of ecwn, see on John xxvi. 22.
In Him (ep autw). Ambiguous. Better, as Rev., set on Him.
Purifieth himself (agnizei eauton). On the verb, see on 1 Pet. i. 22; Jas. iv. 8. In the Septuagint used only of ceremonial purification, and so four out of the seven instances in which it occurs in the New Testament (John xi. 55; Acts xxi. 24, 26; xxiv. 18). In the remaining cases, of purifying the heart and the soul (Jas. iv. 8; 1 Pet. i. 22). The kindred adjective aJgnov pure, has a moral signification in every case, as has the noun aJgothv pureness (only 2 Cor. vi. 6). Agnismov purification (only Acts xxi. 26), ceremonial.
He (ekeinov). Christ, as always in the Epistle.
Pure (agnov). See above. Though marking moral and spiritual purity, and that of a very high grade, since it is applied to Christ here, yet it admits the thought of possible temptation or pollution, thus differing from agiov, which means absolutely holy. Hence aJgnov cannot properly be applied to God, who is agiov; but both may be used of Christ, the latter in virtue of His human perfection.
4. Whosoever committeth sin (pav o poiwn thn amartian). Rev., better, every one that doeth sin. See on ver. 3, every man that hath, and note the frequent repetition of this form of expression in the present chapter. Compare pav oJ aJmartanwn whosoever sinneth (ver. 6). The phrase to do sin regards sin as something actually realized in its completeness. He that does sin realizes in action the sin (note the article thn) that which includes and represents the complete ideal of sin. Compare do righteousness, ii. 29.
Transgresseth also the law (kai thn anomian poiei). Rev., more accurately, doeth also lawlessness. Compare Matt. xiii. 41, and the phrase oiJ ejrgazomenoi thn ajnomian ye that work iniquity (Matthew vii. 23).
For (kai). Rev., correctly, and. This and the preceding clause are coordinated after John's manner.
Is the transgression of the law (estin h anomia). Rev., correctly, is lawlessness. Sin is the violation of the law of our being, the law which includes our threefold relation to God, to the men and things around us, and to ourselves. Compare Jas. i. 14; iv. 17.
5. Ye know. John's characteristic appeal to Christian knowledge. Compare ii. 20, 21; iv. 2, 14, 16; v. 15, 18; 3 John 12.
He (ekeinov). Christ, as always in this Epistle. See on John i. 18. Was manifested. See on John xxi. 1. Including Christ's whole life on earth and its consequences. The idea of manifestation here assumes the fact of a previous being. John various terms to describe the incarnation. He conceives it with reference to the Father, as a sending, a mission. Hence oJ pemyav me He that sent me (John iv. 34; vi. 38; ix. 4; xii. 44, etc.): oJ pemyav me pathr the Father that sent me (John v. 37; viii. 18; xii. 49, etc.): with the verb ajpostellw to send as an envoy, with a commission; God sent (apesteilen) His Son (John iii. 17; x. 36; 1 John iv. 10; conpare John vi. 57; vii. 29; xvii. 18). With reference to the Son, as a coming, regarded as a historic fact and as an abiding fact. As a historic event, He came (h=lqen, John i. 11); this is He that came (oJ ejlqwn, 1 John v. 6). Came forth (ejxhlqon; John viii. 42; xvi. 27, 28; xxvii. 8). As something abiding in its effects, am come, hath come, is come, marked by the perfect tense: Light is come (ejlhluqen, John iii. 19). Jesus Christ is come (ejlhluqota, 1 John iv. 2). Compare John v. 43; xii. 46; xviii. 37). In two instances with hkw I am come, John viii. 42; 1 John v. 20. Or with the present tense, as describing a coming realized at the moment: whence I come (ercomai, John viii. 14); compare John xiv. 3, 18, 28; also Jesus Christ coming (ejrcomenon, 2 John 7). With reference to the form: in flesh (sa.rx). See John i. 14; 1 John iv. 2; 2 John 7. With reference to men, Christ was manifested (1 John i. 2; iii. 5, 8; John i. 31; xxi. 1, 14). 66 To take away (ina arh). See on John i. 29.
Our sins (tav amartiav hmwn). Omit hJuwn our. Compare John i. 29, thn aJmartian, the sin. The plural here regards all that is contained in the inclusive term the sin: all manifestations or realizations of sin.
In Him is no sin (amartia en autw ouk estin). Lit., in Him sin is not. He is essentially and forever without sin. Compare John vii. 18.
Sinneth not. John does not teach that believers do not sin, but is speaking of a character, a habit. Throughout the Epistle he deals with the ideal reality of life in God, in which the love of God and sin exclude each other as light and darkness.
Seen - known. The vision of Christ and the appropriation of what is seen. Rev., correctly, knoweth.
7. Little children. See on ii. 1.
Deceive (planatw). Rev., better, lead astray. See on i. 8.
Doeth righteousness. See on ver. 4, and compare ii. 29. Note the article thn, the righteousness, in its completeness and unity. Not merely doing righteous acts. "In his relation to other men he will do what is just; and in his relation to the gods he will do what is holy; and he who does what is just and holy cannot be other than just and holy" (Plato, "Gorgias," 507).
8. The Devil. See on ii. 13. Compare John viii. 44. "The devil made no one, he begot no one, he created no one; but whosoever imitates the devil, is, as it were, a child of the devil, through imitating, not through being born of him" (Augustine).
Sinneth. The present tense indicates continuousness. He sinned in the beginning, and has never ceased to sin from the beginning, and still sinneth. The Son of God. For the first time in the Epistle. Hitherto the title has been the Son, or His Son. See on i. 7.
Might destroy (lush). Lit., dissolve, loosen. Compare Acts xxvii. 41; xiii. 43. "The works of the devil are represented as having a certain consistency and coherence. They show a kind of solid front. But Christ, by His coming, has revealed them in their complete unsubstantiality. He has 'undone' the seeming bonds by which they were held together" (Westcott).
9. Whosoever is born (pav o gegennhmenov). On the form of expression, see on ver. 4. Rev., begotten. The perfect participle indicates a condition remaining from the first: he who hath been begotten and remains God's child.
His seed. The divine principle of life.
10. In this (en toutw). See on ii. 3.
Righteousness. Here the article is wanting, compare ver. 7. Righteousness is regarded, not in its completeness, but as bearing a particular character. It will be interesting to follow out the same distinction between the following words with and without the article: ajmartia sin; ajgaph love; zwh life; ajlhqeia truth.
11. From the beginning. See on i. 1.
That (ina). The purport and aim of the message. See on John xv. 13.
12. Cain who was (Kain hn). Who is not in the Greek. The construction is irregular. Lit., as Rev., not as Cain was of the evil one.
Slew (esfaxen). The verb occurs only in John, and only here outside of Revelation. Originally, to slay by cutting the throat; so in Homer, of cattle:
To slaughter victims for sacrifice:
"Backward they turned the necks of the fat beeves, And cut their throats (esfazan), and flayed the carcasses." "Iliad," i., 459.
Thence, generally, to slay or kill.
13. Brethren (adelfoi). The only occurrence of this mode of address in the Epistle.
Hate (misei). Indicative mood, pointing to the fact as existing: if the world hate you, as it does.
14. We know. Emphatic; we as distinguished from the world.
Have passed (meatbebhkamen). Lit., have passed over.
From death (ek tou qanatou). Lit., out of the death. The article marks it as one of the two spheres in which men must be; death or life. The death, the life, present one of those sharp oppositions which are characteristic of the Epistle; as love, hatred; darkness, light; truth, a lie. O qanatov the death, occurs in John's Epistles only here and in the next clause. In the Gospel, only v. 24. Personified in Apoc. i. 18; vi. 8; ix. 6; xx. 13. Unto life (eiv thn zwhn). Rev., better, into. Compare enter into the life, Matt. xxviii. 8; xix. 17.
We love the brethren (ajgapwmen tou,v ajdelfouv). The only occurrence of the phrase. Elsewhere, love one another, or love his brother. See on ii. 9.
His brother. Omit.
Hath eternal life, etc. The contrast is suggestive between the sentiment embodied in this statement and that of Pagan antiquity respecting murder, in the Homeric age, for instance. "With regard to the practice of homicide, the ordinary Greek morality was extremely loose.... Among the Greeks, to have killed a man was considered in the light of misfortune, or, at most, a prudential error, when the perpetrator of the act had come among strangers as a fugitive for protection and hospitality. On the spot, therefore, where the crime occurred, it could stand only as in the nature of a private and civil wrong, and the fine payable was regarded, not (which it might have been) as a mode, however defective, of marking any guilt in the culprit, but as, on the whole, an equitable satisfaction to the wounded feelings of the relatives and friends, or as an actual compensation for the lost services of the dead man. The religion of the age takes no notice of the act whatever" (Gladstone "Homer and the Homeric Age," 2, 436).
16. Hereby (en toitw). See on ii. 3.
Perceive (egnwkamen). Rev., correctly, know.
The love. Omit the italics of A.V., of God, and render as Rev., hereby know we love.
17. This world's good (ton bion tou kosmou). Rev., the worlds goods. Biov means that by which life is sustained, resources, wealth.
Seeth (qewrh). Deliberately contemplates. See on John i. 18. Rev., beholdeth. The only occurrence of the verb in John's Epistles.
Have need (creian econta). Lit., having need. Rev., in need.
19. Shall assure (peisomen). Two renderings are possible; the primitive meaning persuade (Acts xix. 26; xvii. 4; 2 Cor. v. 11); or the secondary and consequent sense, assure, quiet, conciliate (Matt. xxviii. 14). Render as A.V., and Rev. as sure. See critical note at the end of the commentary on this Epistle.
20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater, etc. A very difficult passage. See critical note as above. Render, as Rev., shall assure our heart before Him whereinsoever our heart condemn us, because God is greater than our heart.
For (oti). To be rendered not as a conjunction (for, because) but as a relative, in whatsoever or whereinsoever.
Condemn (kataginwskh). The word occurs only three times in the New Testament; here, ver. 21, and Gal. ii. 11. It signifies (1.) To note accurately, usually in a bad sense. Hence to detect (Prov. xxviii. 11); compare Aristophanes: "Having observed (katagnouv) the foibles of the old man" ("Knights," 46). To form an unfavorable prejudice against. So Herodotus. Datis says to the Delians, "Why are ye fled, O holy men, having judged me (katagnontev kat emeu) in so unfriendly a way?" (vi. 97). (2.) To note judicially: to accuse: to accuse one's self. So Thucydides: "No one, when venturing on a perilous enterprise, ever yet passed a sentence of failure on himself" (katagnouv eJautou mh periesesqai; iii. 45). To give sentence, or condemn. To condemn to death. "Those who had fled they condemned to death" (qanaton katagnontev; Thucydides, 6, 60). To decide a suit against one. So Aristophanes: "You judges have no maintenance if you will not decide against (katagnwsesqe) this suit" ("Knights," 1360). In Gal. ii. 11, it is said of Peter that, because of his concessions to the Jewish ritualists, kategnwsmenov hn he stood condemned or self-condemned (not as A.V., he was to be blamed). His conduct was its own condemnation. This is the sense in this passage, the internal judgment of conscience.
Because (oti). This second oti does not appear in the A.V. It is a conjunction.
Greater (meizwn). Is this superior greatness to be regarded as related to God's judgment, or to His compassion? If to His judgment, the sense is: God who is greater than our heart and knows all things, must not only endorse but emphasize our self-accusation. If our heart condemn, how much more God, who is greater than our heart. If to His compassion, the sense is: when our heart condemns us we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are in the hands of a God who is greater than our heart - who surpasses man in love and compassion no less than in knowledge. This latter sense better suits the whole drift of the discussion. See critical note. There is a play of the words ginwskei knoweth, and kataginwskh condemneth, which is untranslatable.
21. Beloved. The affectionate address is suggested by the preceding thought of tormenting self-accusation.
Confidence (parrhsian). Rev., boldness. See on ii. 28.
22. We ask (aitwmen). See on Luke xi. 9.
We receive of Him (lambanomen ap autou) On the form of expression, see on i. 5. For the thought, compare John xv. 7.
We keep (throumen). See on 1 Pet. i. 5. Note the combination of keep and do. Watchful discernment and habitual practice. Compare Psalms cxxiii. 2. The same combination occurs v. 2, 3, where instead of the first thrwmen keep, read poiwmen do.
Pleasing (aresta). See John viii. 29.
In His sight (enwpion autou). Compare emprosqen aujtou before Him, or in His presence (ver. 19). In His sight "accentuates the thought of the divine regard. Compare John vii. 37 and xx. 30" (Westcott).
Spirit. The first mention of the Spirit in the Epistle. Never found with Holy in the Epistles or Revelation.
CRITICAL NOTE ON 1 JOHN iii. 19-22.
1. The revelation of falsehood and truth (ii. 18-29).
2. The children of God and the children of the devil (iii. 1-12).
3. Brotherhood in Christ and the hatred of the world (iii. 13-24).
4. The Rival Spirits of Truth and Error (iv. 1-6).
This passage lies within the third of these subdivisions; but the line of thought runs up into the second subdivision, which begins with this chapter, - the children of God and the children of the Devil.
Let us first briefly review the contents of this chapter down to the point of our text.
The world, therefore, does not know us, even as it did not know Him. We are children of God; and in this fact lies enfolded our future, the essence of which will be likeness to God, coming through unveiled and transfiguring vision.
The result of such a relation and hope is persistent effort after moral purity. "Every one that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure."
This attempt to purify corresponds with the fulfillment of our true destiny which Christ has made possible. Sin is irreconcilable with a right relation to God, for Christianity emphasizes the law of God, and "sin is lawlessness." The object of Christ's manifestation was to "take away sin;" therefore, "everyone that abideth in Him sinneth not." "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." "He that committeth sin is of the devil;" but the Son of God was manifested in order to destroy the works of the devil. The divine seed - the divine principle of growth - the germ of the new life is in the true believer; and the ideas of divine sonship and sin are mutually exclusive.
The being a child of God will manifest itself not only in doing righteousness, but in love - the love to God, taking shape in love and ministry to the brethren. This is the highest expression of righteousness. The whole aim of the Gospel is the creation and strengthening of love; and the type of life in God through Christ is therefore the direct opposite of Cain, who being of the evil one, slew his brother.
Over against this love is the world's hatred. This is bound up, as love is, with the question of origin. God's children share God's nature, which is love. The children of the world are the children of the evil one, whose nature is lawlessness and hatred. Love is the outgrowth of life; hatred, of death. He that loveth not, abideth in death. For ourselves, children of God, we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.
Christ is the perfect type and revelation of love, since He gave His life for us. We, likewise, ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. The practical test of our brotherly love is ministry. The love of God does not dwell in us if we refuse to relieve our brother's need.
The fruit of love is confidence. "In this, we perceive that we are of the truth; and, perceiving this, we shall assure our hearts in the presence of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. It is of the very essence of Christian life that it is lived and tested before God. No assurance or confidence is possible except from being in right relation to God.
Through the consciousness of love, then, which is of God, and which marks the children of God, we perceive that we are children of God - of the truth; and in this knowledge we find assurance and confidence before the very highest tribunal. "We shall assure our heart before Him."
This brings us to the heart of our passage. What is the specific character and direction of our assurance? Of what are we confident? Here we strike the differences in the exposition of the passage. The questions resolve themselves into three:
1. What is the meaning of peisomen (we shall assure or persuade)?
2. How are the otiv (that or because) to be explained?
3. What is the meaning of meizw (greater)? Peisomen may be taken either according to its primitive meaning, persuade, induce, prevail upon (Acts xix. 26; xviii. 4; 2 Cor. v. 11), or in its secondary and consequent sense, to assure, quiet, appease (Matthew xxviii. 14).
1. If we render persuade, two courses are possible.
(a.) Either we may use it absolutely, and mentally supply something as the substance of the persuasion. "Hereby know we that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our hearts before Him." The mind might then supply: We shall persuade our heart to be confident in asking anything from God. Objection. This would anticipate ver. 21. "If our heart condemn us not, then have we boldness toward God, and whatsoever we ask of Him we receive," etc.; or, We shall persuade our heart to show love in life and act.
Objection. This does not suit the connection; for we recognize ourselves by our love as children of faith, and do not need first to move our hearts to love which already dwells there; or, We shall persuade our heart that we are of the truth.
Objection. This is tautological. We know or perceive that we are of the truth, by the fact of our love. We therefore reject the absolute use of peisomen.
(b.) Still rendering persuade, we may attempt to find the substance of the persuasion in the following clauses. Here we run into the second of our three questions, the double oti, for oti becomes the sign of definition of peisomen. The different combinations and translations proposed center in two possible renderings for oti: because or that.
If we render because, it leaves us with the absolute peisomen which we have rejected. We have then to render - "Hereby perceive we that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our heart before Him: because, if our heart condemn us, because, I say (second oti), God is greater than our heart," etc.
All the other renderings, like this, involve what is called the epanaleptic use of oti; the second taking up and carrying forward the sense of the first. This is very objectionable here, because
1. There is no reason for it. This use of oti or similar words is appropriate only in passages where the course of thought is broken by a long, interjected sentence or parenthesis, and where the conjunction takes up again the thread of discourse. It is entirely out of place here after the interjection of only a few words.
2. There is no parallel to it in the writings of John, nor elsewhere in the New Testament, so far as I know (but see 1 John v. 9).
The case is no better if we translate oti that. Here indeed we get rid of the absolute peisomen, but we are compelled to hold by the resumptive oti. For instance, "We shall persuade ourselves that, if our heart condemn us, that, I say, God is greater than our heart."
Moreover, some of these explanations at least, commit the apostle to misstatement. Suppose, for example, we read: "We shall persuade our heart that God is greater than our heart:" we make the apostle say that the consciousness of brotherly love, and of our consequent being "of the truth," is the basis of our conviction of the sovereign greatness of God. Thus: "Herein (in our brotherly love) do we perceive that we are of the truth, and herein we shall persuade ourselves that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
The case is not improved if we render the first oti as pronominal, and read as follows: "We shall persuade ourselves in whatever our heart condemn us, that God is greater than our heart." The object of persuasion, then, is the greatness of God. The sense of condemnation is the occasion of our persuading ourselves: the foundation of our persuasion of God's greatness is our consciousness of being of the truth.
We conclude therefore,
1. That we must reject all renderings founded on the absolute use of peisomen.
(a.) Because it leaves the mind to supply something which the text leads us to expect that it will supply.
(b.) Because the conception of persuasion or assurance takes its character from the idea of condemning or accusing (kataginwskh), and becomes vague if we separate it from that.
2. We must reject explanations founded on the epanaleptic use of oti for the reasons already given.
"Herein do we know (or, more properly, perceive) that we are of the truth; and shall assure (or quiet) our heart before Him in whatsoever our heart may condemn (or accuse) us; because God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things."
The only grammatical objection to this rendering, which is entitled to any weight, is that the exact pronominal phrase oti ejan does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; but this is little better than a quibble, since we have really the same combination under another form, viz., Gal. v. 10, ostiv ejan (so Lach., West. and H., Tisch., Lightfoot), and possibly in Acts iii. 23, where Tisch. reads htiv ejan. In Col. iii. 17, West. and H., Lightfoot, and Ellicott, read oti ejan ("whatsoever ye do in word or deed"). Moreover, it is born out by the frequent use of ejan for ajn after relatives (Matt. v. 19; viii. 19; x. 42; xi. 27; John xv. 7). See Moulton's "Winer," 2nd ed., p. 390.
1st. Shall we allay the accusation of heart by saying: "God is greater than our heart, His judgment is therefore stricter than ours; and so, apart from fellowship with Him we can have no hope;" or, as Meyer puts it, "Only in conscious brotherly love shall we calm our hearts, for, if we do not love, our heart condemns us, and God is greater than our heart, and there is no peace for the accusing conscience:" or, again, as it is popularly interpreted:
Or, 2nd. Shall we take meizwn as the expression of God's compassionate love, and say, "when our heart condemns us, we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are the proved children of God, and therefore, in fellowship with a God who is greater than our heart, greater in love and compassion no less than in knowledge?
The choice between these must be largely determined by the drift of the whole discussion, and here, therefore, we leave the textual and grammatical side of the question, and proceed to the homiletical aspect of the passage. Generally, we may observe that the whole drift of the chapter is consolatory and assuring. The chapter is introduced with a burst of affectionate enthusiasm. "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, and such we are." The darker shades - the origin and nature of sin; the truth that sinners are of the evil one; the hatred of the world, springing out of this radical opposition between the origin and motive of children of God and children of the evil one - are thrown in to heighten and emphasize the position and privilege of God's children. They are to be left in no doubt as to their relation to God. They are thrown for decisive testimony upon the su