Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 John/Chapter 1

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v 1 John was a trustworthy witness because he relates what he himself saw, touched and heard. His entire life was changed by his experience with Jesus, and even decades later, in his old age and near death, he is preoccupied with telling people about it. At this point John has seen ten of his fellow apostles killed for their faith but he keeps on professing up to the very end. An entire community was based on what he and others had witnessed, and it is to this community, the church, that John is addressing his letter.

      • For those seeking a historical-critical approach, I offer the following notes: The text of 1 Jn does not identify its author, nor is there any mention in the text of anyone named John nor of any apostle(s). Moreover, the author does not use the first person singular "I," but writes about what "we" (first person plural) have heard, seen, looked upon, and touched. No apostles are mentioned in the text nor, consequently, anything about their lives or martyrdoms.

v 2 Before meeting Jesus, John, a faithful Jew, was spiritually dead. It was only through Jesus that he was able to feel set free from his old way of life. Now this was an experience shared by thousands of Christians who received his letter: leaving death for life, leaving an existence marked by shallowness and lack of fulfillment for a new life of constant struggle but of soul-felt happiness. The old life was life only in that his body existed and functioned, but was without hope. His new life begins on the earth and continues into eternity with God. Life came only through Jesus, sent by God from heaven to earth to bring hope to a people who had none. Life was manifested first to John and his companions, then through them to many more people who had come to faith in Christ and who had left behind their old lifestyle and united with the radically different lifestyle of the church.

      • This letter doesn't suggest that its author was a converted Jew. There is no maligning of Judaism as hopeless, shallow, or anything else, inasmuch as Judaism isn't mentioned in the letter.

v 3 John announced the message to the people to help them be united with him as he was united with God. Without the message or the preaching, the people would not be united with God or with the apostles. John proclaims that no-one would be close to God, since Jesus is the only path to God in a darkened world (Jn 14:6).

v 4 John enjoyed what he did and it was a pleasure for him to write to his flock. He saw people’s lives change as they drew close to God. Thus writing helped him to complete his happiness, which would be incomplete if he didn’t help those around him draw closer to God or if those who had been close to God drifted away.

v 5 The message: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Light is freedom from sin and ignorance; light is understanding, enlightenment, and spiritual maturity. Darkness is a symbol of sin, lies, and death. As God has no darkness, the Christian should not permit sin in his or her life.

v 6 Saying we are united with him: that is, the Christians. Anyone in the church who lives in lies or unrepentant or unconfessed sin lives in darkness, futilely, trying to hide his actions from men, but unable to hide them from God. This is to have stepped away from the truth and be once again in opposition to God and his will. This drives a barrier between one Christian and the others, is a break of faith and is not what God or John want.

v 7 No Christian, nor any human, has never sinned (Rom 3:9-20) and no Christian can avoid sin completely even after coming to know God (v 8). However, to be close to God a person needs to be purified, and that happens only through the blood of Jesus. This allows Christians to be united one with the other and live in the light, with God.

v 8 Some in John’s audience liked to think that they had no sin. They were mistaken and fooling themselves. Not only that, but they had stepped away from God’s truth, because John says that such a person has no truth in him. We must recognize our sins before God to be close to him and for there to be truth in us.

v 9 What should we do about our sins? John’s answer for his flock was clear: confess them. A person is not right before God by behaving well, as no-one is able to live up to God’s perfection. Unfortunately, every living person sins (v 8, Rom 3:9) and needs forgiveness. God, who is just, forgives the sins of the Christian who asks it. Besides this, God cleans the Christian of wrongdoing, helping him to leave behind sinful and destructive tendencies.

v 10 In the case of a Christian who claims he has not sinned, this in itself is a grave sin as it makes God out to be a liar. This reveals that the person has not come to a true relationship with God, as he has not accepted God’s word.