The First Epistle of St. John the Apostle
This Epistle partakes to some extent of the nature of a theological treatise, yet has some of the characteristics of a letter. Although it has neither initial salutation nor farewell greeting, the author alludes frequently to the spiritual condition of those to whom he writes and frequently addresses them in endearing and affectionate terms.
The similarity of ideas and expressions makes it certain that the Epistle comes from the same pen that wrote the Fourth Gospel, that of St. John, the beloved disciple.
His purpose is to exhort his beloved children to a fuller appreciation of the precious treasure that is theirs in the Christian Revelation and of the obligations it places on them. He warns them of the dangers which false teachers offer to their faith, and although he refutes these heretics, his primary purpose is rather to exhort the faithful to cling to the faith and discharge its obligations, prin¬cipally that of the love of God and of neighbour.
The error which he seems to have in mind is the false teaching of Cerinthus, who, according to St. Irenacus, held that Christ came down upon the man Jesus at his baptism, dwelt in him by some sort of accidental union, spoke and worked miracles, and then returned to heaven, prior to the crucifixion, so that the Jesus who suffered and died was a mere man. St. John is concerned with showing that Jesus and Christ, or the Son of God, is but one divine Person united in two natures, the human and the divine.
The Epistle was addressed to Christians of Asia Minor or possibly of Syria who had been pagans before their conversion, as is indicated in the warning to beware of idols. Some few manuscripts and fathers have the address: to the Parthians.
The Epistle was most probably written at Ephesus either shortly before or shortly after the Gospel according to St. John. The tone and content of both are too closely allied for their composition to have been separated by a long interval of time. The Epistle is more probably a sort of postscript to the Gospel, rather than a forerunner and introduction to it.
From: The New Testament, translated by
J.A. Kleist, S.J. and J.L. Lilly, C.M.
Bruce Publishing, 1954
Index of Reflections and Related Text
This page is a work in progress:
(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)
Chapter and verse/s
1 1: 1 — 2
2 1: 3 — 4
3 1: 5 — 7
4 1: 8 — 10
5 2: 1 — 2
6 2: 3 — 6
7 2: 7 — 8
8 2: 9 — 11
9 2: 12 — 14
10 2: 15 — 17
11 2: 18 — 19
12 2: 20 — 25
13 2: 26 — 29
14 3: 1 — 3
15 3: 4 — 6
16 3: 7 — 9
17 3: 9 — 10
18 3: 10 — 12
19 3: 13 — 15
20 3: 16 — 18
Chapter and verse/s
21 3: 19 — 22
22 3: 23 — 24
23 4: 1
24 4: 2 — 3
25 4: 4 — 6
26 4: 7 — 11
27 4: 12 — 14
28 4: 15 — 17
29 4: 18 — 19
30 4: 20 — 21
31 5: 1 — 2
32 5: 3 — 5
33 5: 6
34 5: 7 — 8
35 5: 9 — 10
36 5: 11 — 12
37 5: 13 — 15
38 5: 16 — 17
39 5: 18 — 20
40 5: 21
The First Epistle of St. John the Apostle
1. 1 John 1: verses 1 and 2
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we
have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched
with our hands concerns the Word of life –
for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to
it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father
and was made visible to us –
Beginning without address or salutation, and even omitting his name and title, St. John asserts his character as witness to the actual manifestation of the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. The Word who was with the Father from all eternity, John 1: 1, assumed human nature in order to procure eternal life for the human race. He became man that he might be the life of humankind. This great mystery the Apostle now reveals to his readers. But he reports nothing without sufficient proof; he records what he himself has seen, pondered, and touched.
2. 1 John 1: verses 3 and 4
what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship
is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
The great revelation in this letter about Jesus Christ, (who was with the Father from all eternity yet assumed human nature for our good), is made for two reasons.
First: that the readers may share ‘fellowship’ with the Apostles, i.e. may partake of the union that joins all in Christ, and through Christ, with God. The term ‘fellowship’ is in a sense the key word of the entire Epistle. It means intimacy, intercourse, communion, a joint sharing. Christians are partakers of the good things which they possess in common from God and Jesus Christ.
Secondly: by realising more fully this fellowship with the Father and the Son they will continually experience increasing joy.
3. 1 John 1 verses 5 to 7
Now this is the message that we have heard from him and
proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue
to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus
cleanses us from all sin.
The Apostle has a message from Christ which related to the nature of God. He is the absolutely pure, spiritual, perfect being, who can best be represented to men by light. In Him there is neither defect nor imperfection, nothing inconsistent with absolute excellence. Our Lord said repeatedly during His public ministry: “I am the light of the world” (John 8: 12; 9: 5; 12: 35) i.e. the source of all truth and moral goodness. Since Father and Son are one, and have the same nature, what is true of the Son is true of the Father. “Darkness”, in St John’s terminology, means the absence of truth and moral goodness, the prevalence of error and sin. Since God is so perfect a being, no one who leads a sinful life can claim fellowship with Him, because union with God and a life of sin are incompatible states. We ‘walk in the light’ if we lead good and holy lives. Holiness binds all Christians with God and with one another, and makes one a partaker of the graces merited by the blood of Jesus Christ.
4. 1 John 1 verses 8 to 10
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and
the truth is not in us.
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will
forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and
his word is not in us.
Certain members of the Church, misled by pride and self-deception, maintained that they committed no sins. To this group St John declares that whosoever dares to make such a claim is not guided by the truth but is a victim of self-deception. Moreover, it is not sufficient to acknowledge ourselves to be sinners interiorly, we must “confess our sins” i.e. make an exterior acknowledgement of them. It is not stated here to whom they must be confessed in order that they may be forgiven. Christ commissioned the Apostles to absolve contrite sinners upon their confession of sins, John 20: 23, and God who “is faithful and just” will “forgive us our sins” as He promised e.g. Ps 103: 3; St. John points out that even sincere Christians fall into sin. Should anyone dare to say the contrary, he makes God a liar, because He said explicitly that all men are sinners. E.g. Ps 14: 3.
5. 1 John 2 verses 1 and 2
My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those
of the whole world.
St John urges his readers to be very careful to avoid deliberate sin; yet he knows the weakness of human nature, and holds out the hope of pardon to the sinner, because “we have an advocate with the Father” i.e. one who intercedes for us and for the whole world. Christ exercises this office of advocate for sinners by continually offering the merits of his passion and death on their behalf; thus “he is the propitiation for our sins”. (See Hebrews 9: 24 – 26).
To propitiate is to appease someone who is displeased with serious failings; i.e. to bring peace and reconciliation. St. John’s emphasis in this passage is on restoration.
This is our Lord’s essential core purpose. We need to remember this term “propitiation”, i.e. an agent of reconciliation and restoration.
6. 1 John 2 verses 4 to 6
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to live (just) as he lived.
True and solid knowledge of God, says John, is not just theoretical, but practical. True knowledge of God leads to love of God, which manifests itself in a constant effort to carry out the divine will expressed in the commandments. Christ must serve him as Model in this respect, and did so to perfection.
7. 1 John 2 verses 7 and 8
Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an
old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you, which
holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is
passing away, and the true light is already shining.
St. John explains: because of its practical character, the precept of fraternal charity calls for special consideration. At first the Apostle calls it “an old commandment”, because God implanted it in the human heart from the beginning, and he expressly enjoined it on the Chosen People, Lev. 19: 18. For Christians it received its full significance in the teachings of Christ, Mt 6. In so far as this commandment was fully carried out, first by Christ and then by his followers, it may be called a new commandment. As Christians, their situation was quite different from what it had been in the time of darkness, when they lived like the Gentiles around them (1). They were now united by a new bond of faith, and their charity to one another.
(1) Remember St. John wrote this largely for converts from what was referred to in those days as “paganism”.
8. 1 John verses 9 to 11
Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother,
is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there
is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going because the darkness
has blinded his eyes.
St. John, very aware of the ancient Law of love in the Torah: love of God with all your might and of your neighbor as yourself, calls on followers of our Lord Jesus Christ to love as befits those who live in His light. (See Dt. 6: 4 etc; Lev. 19: 8; and John 13: 34), explains: to fail in charity is to fail in the principal obligation imposed by Christian faith. He who hates his brother shows that he is not swayed by motives of faith, but by selfishness like those who still live in pagan darkness. Christianity emphasises the reasonableness of universal charity, and by following its teachings we give no occasion of scandal to others. Hatred is a sign of spiritual blindness and those who allow themselves to be swayed by this blind passion know not where it may lead them.
9. 1 John 2 verses 12 to 14
I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been
forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who
is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men,
because you have conquered the evil one.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is
from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because
you are strong and the word of God remains in you, and
you have conquered the evil.
In this section, St John addresses his readers (or those listening) as little children, which probably includes the whole community. Then he turns to the fathers specifying the more mature; and finally, the young men.
To the community as a whole the Apostle declares: “your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, obtained for you this great grace, removing the obstacle that would hinder your union with God”. Then addressing their ‘fathers’, he commends them for their mature knowledge of the faith. The ‘young men’ are praised for gaining a victory over the devil, probably by curbing their passions and forming good habits.
10. 1 John 2 verses 15 to 17
Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves
the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes,
and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.
Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever
does the will of God remains forever.
St. John believes he has a job to do and so he does it. In no uncertain terms he delivers a clear warning to those seeking to follow Christ. Directly opposed to God’s will, he explains, are the inordinate desires or concupiscence that centre around self. The ‘world’ in St. John’s terminology stands for people who are hostile to God and opposed to Christ’s teachings. A worldling is a typically self-centred person, who craves for the gratification of their feelings and emotions. Those who become inordinately attached to what worldlings seek, alienate themselves from the love of God.
Three things in particular draw the heart away from God. They are:
1. The concupiscence of the flesh, (i.e. an inordinate — i.e. unbalanced
— love for pleasure, a craving to gratify the lower passions, a yielding
to the vices of gluttony, drunkenness, impurity, luxury.)
2. The concupiscence of the eyes, (i.e. a passionate attachment to
riches and material possessions, a yielding to the vice of avarice) and
3. The pride of life (i.e. an uncontrolled desire for honours, esteem,
rank, pomp and show, a yielding to the vices of pride, ambition, vanity
It is evident that such passions do not have their origin in God, and do not belong to the life which is from God. They spring from a corrupt world, and, like the world they are even now in the process of passing away. Being of short duration, they cannot satisfy the human heart. God alone can satisfy it and only obedience to His will can bring us full satisfaction and unending joy. If we let ourselves be enticed away from what God offers, we have been told what to expect.
11. 1 John 2 verses 18 and 19
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist
was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we
know this is the last hour.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion
shows that none of them was of our number.
As St. John explained, three evil forces (verses 15 – 17) are leagued against the Father. Against the Son there are also many opponents, called ‘antichrists’. St. John is the only New Testament writer to use the name ‘antichrist’. Every opposing teacher, who strives to rob the faithful of their belief and love of Christ is deserving of the name, although the Apostle admits St. Paul’s prophecy of one chief opponent, ‘the man of sin’, 2 Thess. 2: 3 – 9. This passage of St. Paul is helpful in understanding the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in regard to betrayal within and beyond the Church. It is worth noting at this point that the Second Coming of Christ will be preceded by a great apostacy, i.e. a great religious revolt, and the coming of the “man of sin”, the Antichrist, the Son of perdition: one entirely deserving of eternal punishment.
St. John boldly states what followers of Christ must hear and be ready for; “Antichrist is coming.” We may encounter Antichrist in some great adversary of Christ, embodying in himself all the world’s hatred of Christ, or in the form of a collective personage – many antichrists who have been and are continually at work to destroy the kingdom of Christ.
In harmony with our lord’s prediction, Mt 24: 24, St. John declares that many antichrists have arisen even now. From this fact we are to conclude ‘that it is the last hour’. This phase in not to be taken literally as the time immediately before the judgment, but can refer to the entire period of the Christian dispensation. Thus rabbinic tradition calls the whole period following the advent of the Messiah “the future world’ – ‘Olam habba’, (See SB 4, 816 — 44); and St. Peter refers to the apostolic age as, ‘the last time’.
1 Peter 1: 5: 20. During this period both truth and error concerning the person of Jesus Christ will be disseminated: the former by authorised apostles, the latter by false teachers. It is a cause of great distress to the beloved disciple that these teachers of error were once members of the Church. St. John therefore emphasises the fearful truth that the antichrist will be taken by many for Christ. Even members of the Church may find themselves misled. Our Lord predicted that His kingdom would have a mixture of wheat and weeds (Matt 13: 24 – 30). One needs to be vigilant yet prudent in how all that is false is to be dealt with until finally gathered up and burnt.
12. 1 John 2 verses 20 to 25
But you have the anointing that comes from the
and you all have knowledge.
I write to you not because you do not know the truth but
because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.
Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever
confesses the Son has the Father as well.
Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then
you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.
St. John recalls for his readers and listeners that they have been baptised into Christ and confirmed in the Holy Spirit. When enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Christians have the capacity to learn how to distinguish between truth and error, between false and true Christians. The parable of the wheat and the darnel (St. Matthew 13: 24 — 30) illustrates the vital necessity that the false must be identified ready for dispatch to the fire at the appropriate time. Our Lord does not suggest that the darnel weed should be ignored; rather kept under observation and in the final harvest, not included with the wheat. His epistle confronts all members of the Church with the need to follow authorised teaching in order to develop this ability. Those who are false teachers never really belonged to the Church. Their principal error is the denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Annointed One. In this denial they also deny the Incarnation – i.e. they separate the man Jesus from the Christ, (the error of Cerinthus) and thus deny the divinity of our Lord. There has never been a time when this has not, in some form or other, been present among those who call themselves Christians. Members of the Church, St. John warns, will need constantly to be alert to the various ways Christ can be denied even in the Church.
This denial may be manifested in different forms of down-grading or sidelining our Lord, carelessness in reverent titles traditionally given to Jesus, misuse of His Holy Name, lack of respect in His Presence or at Holy Communion. To avoid these Christians will need to take a close look at how worldly practices influence traditional daily spiritual routines as well as behaviour in Church. Two things they will need to remember always:
a) there can be no communion with the Father if one denies the Son;
b) the Father can be known (in the Biblical sense of the word) only
through the Son.
St. John also highlights the importance of holding fast to the original teaching passed down to them from the Apostles. These traditional teachings of the Church have been preserved for them and he calls on his readers to let those teachings “abide: in them.” This is one of his many calls for Christians to reflect constantly on the Divine Word, Who dwells in us as we do in Him.
Thus the life of grace, lived here in union with Christ, is the prelude to life eternal
(see John 3: 15).
13. 1 John 2 verses 26 to 29
I write you these things about those who would deceive you.
As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains
in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his
anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false;
just as it taught you, remain in him.
And now, children, remain in him, so that when he appears
we may have confidence and not be put to shame by him at
If you consider that he is righteous, you also know that everyone
who acts in righteousness is begotten by him.
For St. John, there is reason for warning then against false seducers. Not that they need explicit instruction in the matter. They have received the unction of the Holy Spirit who will enlighten them concerning what they must know. His teachings are the truth, without any admixture of falsehood. Let them hold fast, therefore, to the faith which he imparted to them. Thus they will be able to meet their judge with confidence; for he judges justly and approves those who lead good lives.
These few verses are frequently misinterpreted. St. John is not saying, because you have the Holy Spirit you do not need to pay attention to the strong, passionate and bold statements he has just made about the dangers of carelessly following antichrists. His ‘slant’ is that when we listen carefully to the teaching of Christ passed down to us through the Apostles and their appointed successors, and keep it ever fresh within our minds and hearts, then with the help of the Holy Spirit we will be kept safe from error — even when we do not actually understand all the specific details of the gross heresies always in circulation. Our citadel of protection is abiding in the Word, (which the Holy Spirit enables us to do if we choose), and this certainly implies, in all the Epistles, obedience to those authorised to teach what the Scriptures contain.
This principle applies to Catholics as well as Protestants; remembering that both Luther and Calvin in their Institutes and foundation documents categorically and emphatically declared that the authority for interpretation of Sacred Scripture lay with those ordained for this purpose, and not in personal interpretation.
14. 1 John 3 verses 1 to 3
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may
be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason
the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has
not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself
pure, as he is pure.
In his unique style, St. John tells us because God has adopted the faithful into His Household, into His Family, the world, which is hostile to God, hates them. But adoption entitles them to a future state of glory, like that of God himself. The true nature of that glorification is not yet clear; but after this life, faith will give way to the perfect vision of God, in which they will reflect his glory and nature. Whosoever wishes to see God, the very source of purity and holiness, must strive to be holy and keep himself or herself free from all taint of sin.
15. 1 John 3 verses 4 to 6
Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin
You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and
in him there is no sin.
No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has
seen him or known him.
St. John teaches that everyone who commits sin, i.e. deliberately and in full knowledge of what the act implies, rebels against the will of God as expressed in His commandments. Hence of its very nature sin separates the soul from God. Sin also renders futile the merits of Christ. Therefore, every Christian is obliged to avoid sin that he may remain united with Christ. Willfully and knowingly to transgress the Law of God indicates a lack of proper knowledge of Christ. He who has seen Christ with the eyes of faith, and has recognised that He came to take way our sins and ‘sin is not in Him’ strives to become like Him, free from all deliberate sin.
16. I John 3 verses 7 and 8
Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts
in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has
sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was
revealed to destroy the works of the devil.
St. John delivers another bold message: a just person observes the Law of God, and whoever sets it (God’s Law) at naught imitates the devil. Satan is the author of sin; Christ is his mighty opponent.
A sinner is said to be the son of the devil because every sin is in some way dependent on, and inspired by him. It was through him that sin entered the world. All moral evil in the last analysis is reducible to Satan, the leader of the forces of evil.
17. 1 John 3 verses 9 and 10
No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s
seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God.
In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are
made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to
God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.
St. John explains that sin is at variance with the divine adoption. When he says that one who is born of God cannot sin, St. John does not mean that every baptised person is confirmed in grace and cannot fall from that state, but that sin is entirely incompatible with a true child of God. (see Rom. 6: 6). Hence, only they who avoid or genuinely try to avoid sin deserve to be called ‘the children of God'; they who do not, are ‘the children of the devil’. This is not pre-judgment by St. John. He is merely telling us to be real, to stop fooling ourselves, and to face the truth, head on.
18. 1 John 3 verses 10 and 12
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning:
we should love one another,
unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered
his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own
works were evil, and those of his brother righteous.
St. John again, highlights the importance of ‘fraternal charity’ or love of one’s brother or sister. In this passage the term ‘brother’ refers primarily to members of the Christian community. He does this not to exclude non-members, but to emphasise the disastrous consequences of not practising it within the Church. He reminds us that it is a commandment handed down to us as part of the ancient tradition, the Law, the Holy Torah, the Holy Teaching of God.
19. 1 John 3 verses 13 to 15
Do not be amazed, (then,) brothers, if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life because
we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you
know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.
St. John explains that fraternal charity is the characteristic mark of God’s children. To ascertain the spiritual state of any Christian, and to determine that person’s relationship with God, we need but observe now they react to the essential precept of fraternal charity. Children of God manifest an active and disinterested love for their neighbour; the children of the devil are characterised by sullen and envious hatred. We follow the way of life when we love the brethren. To cherish hatred for anyone is to develop the disposition of a murderer and forfeit eternal life.
20. 1 John 3 verses 16 to 18
The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life
for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and
refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?
Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
St. John reminds us that Christ who laid down his life for us is the perfect example of charity. We should be ready to make a similar sacrifice if called upon to do so. This being the ideal, how radically wanting in charity is he, who sees his brother in dire need, yet does nothing to help him. The reason for such heartless conduct is the absence of love of God. Love of God and of the neighbour are inseparable. In practising either, we must not rest satisfied with mere expressions of devotion and good will.
21. 1 John 3 verses 19 to 22
(Now) this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than
our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have
confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep
his commandments and do what pleases him.
St. John explains: Only when charity is active does conscience assure us that we are leading sincere Christian lives. And should it accuse us of faults, God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, will understand the sincerity of our love. If a good conscience finds nothing reprehensible, we may confidently expect that God will grant a favourable answer to our petitions, unless it would for our own good to do otherwise.
22. 1 John 3 verses 23 and 24
And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name
of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in
them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the
Spirit that he gave us.
St. John continues his explanation of the inestimable value of a good conscience. Two things sum up what is most pleasing to him: faith in the divine personality of Jesus Christ, and brotherly love according to Christ’s instructions. Observance of the commandments is indispensable for union with God. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us moral assurance of this union, who manifests His presence by the spirit of charity.
23. 1 John 4 verse 1
Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see
whether they belong to God, because many false prophets
have gone out into the world. have gone forth into the world.
St. John advises on the discernment of Spirits. Besides those impulses which have their origin in ourselves, there are two other kinds of spiritual activity, which come from without. God can enlighten our minds and move our will, either immediately or through the agency of others. On the other hand, the evil spirit tries to perplex and disquiet the faithful with false teachings, and he can imitate the appearance of good in order to deceive us. Hence, the Apostle warns his readers not to trust every spirit, but to put the revelation they receive, or the teaching they hear to a test to see whether it is from God or from the devil.
St. John’s use of the term ‘spirit’ means spiritual manifestation, but specifically among the teachers many of whom were false — the ‘antichrists’ which he discussed in chapter 2: 18 – 28. Such people always claim their ‘gift’ is of divine origin.
Even the possession of the Spirit of God can also be an illusion. The spiritual manifestations — or events proclaimed as such — which appear in the Church must not be taken at face value, for deceit and delusion are always possible. The phenomena must be carefully examined in order to be sure that they do not support false prophecy. False so-called manifestations of the Holy Spirit are common. They are keenly sought after by unfortunate people who do not find their fulfillment in Christ’s teaching, but rather in one entertaining and seemingly amazing phenomenon after another. Such deceit continues to beset the Church.
24. 1 John 4 verses 2 and 3
This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that
acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh be longs to God,
and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not
belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you
heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.
St. John provides here the first general mark by which true teachers might be identified as passing on the authentic teaching of Christ. Teachers, who are animated by the divine Spirit, defend the Incarnation of the Son of God. Those who make a distinction between Jesus, a mere man, and Christ, the Son of God, are not of God, but of Antichrist.
Throughout the whole history of the Church, the direct or indirect refusal to accept all the implications of God becoming a mere man has caused severe distortion of the image the world has of Jesus Christ. St John is very concerned to warn the Church of the need to combat this tendency with great vigour, constancy and determination to extinguish it! His model is to call false teachers by their well-earned rightful title antichrists.
25. 1 John 4 verses 4 to 6
You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them,
for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs
to the world, and the world listens to them.
We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us,
while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us.
This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
The Apostle is grateful that his dear children have not been deceived by such false teachers, because God, who dwells in them, has helped them to persevere in the truth. Thus he can say, “You are of God.” St. John quickly turns to the antichrists — “They are of the world”. They are guided by a worldly spirit, teaching people either directly or indirectly, to follow the customs and inclinations currently popular and in vogue. From the very beginning of the Church, there has always been a strong inclination to adapt Christ’s teaching to the current prevailing philosophies or popular trends of the time; always with the same catch-cry of ‘making Christianity relevant’ and therefore acceptable to the general populace.
St. John tackles that attitude head on! We Christians are of God, he says — we have received the Spirit. We, the Apostles of Christ, were lawfully sent by Him. Those who love and serve God, and comply with the doctrine of His Son, Jesus Christ, listen to and follow the doctrine which we were commissioned by Him to teach.
St. John could not be clearer or more emphatic. “He, who is not of God, does not listen to us”. They are not of God who refuse to hear and obey the voice of the Church and those whom Christ appointed to govern His Church. So, here St. John provides the second general mark and rule (see introduction to verses 2 and 3) to preserve all Christians from errors and heresies to the end of the world. He who knows God, hears us Apostles, whom He sent, and listens to our successors, invested with the same mission and authority, whom Christ sent (as His heavenly Father sent Him), whom he appointed to govern His Church, and with whom He promised to remain to the end of the world.
26. 1 John 4 verses 7 to 11
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent
his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved
us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.
After showing this distinction between the children of God and those of the world, St. John next proves that love of God and of the neighbour are so closely related that the one cannot exist without the other. Those who love as the Scriptures teach are united to God and know him i.e. are able to distinguish his revelation from the false teachings. When God in His infinite mercy determined to restore fallen mankind to its original supernatural state, His love knew no bounds. He sent his only-begotten Son into the world to be a sacrifice of propitiation for our sins. i.e. a sacrifice bringing appeasement for our fallen nature; restoring us to God’s favour. Although St. John is writing mainly for Christians of non-Jewish origin, the whole of his presentation in this Epistle is couched in terms of our Lord fulfilling the expectations recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures — i.e. The Old Testament. He conveys a wonderful attitude of “inclusion” towards those who love God, despite their old ways which they have left behind them.
27. 1 John 4 verses 12 to 14
No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another,
God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his
Son as savior of the world
When we love one another, explains St. John, the invisible God dwells is us, because by this act we resemble God, whose love in sending his Son to be the Saviour of the world we freely admit and confess (i.e. make known).
Thus while no mortal has seen God and the perfection of the divine Majesty in such a manner as the blessed in heaven, we have, nevertheless, powerful motives to love and serve Him, and to love our neighbour for His sake.
28. 1 John 4 verses 15 to 17
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God
remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has
for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains
in God and God in him.
In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have
confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are
we in this world because as he is, even so are we in this world.
By faith and love says St. John, we are united to God and to one another, and if we perfect ourselves in love we need not fear the day of judgment.
To ‘confess’ (verse 15) that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is to acknowledge this truth fully, and to make it known. The term has a strong core requirement of ‘completeness’. St. John uses it with the full power of its meaning: when our lives manifest the ‘complete’ teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ (not just those that we pick and choose) — when we listen to and build our lives on the whole the revelation passed down to us through His Church, then we truly abide in Him and He in us.
29. 1 John 4 verses 18 and 19
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because
fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet
perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us.
St. John distinguishes between servile fear and the true awesome fear we should have of God. Just as love unites two persons, so fear separates them. There is a servile fear of God that is incompatible with perfect charity. This looks only to the punishment, and one who is influenced solely by it, fears to approach a just God. Such a person fears the punishment more than the fact of offending God. That kind of fear has nothing to do with the love of God. There is also a filial fear of God, which considers that sin is an offence against God. Such fear springs from love and is wholesome. It shows our respect for God, whom we hold in awe.
30. 1 John 4 verses 20 and 21
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot
love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves
God must also love his brother.
St. John wishes to ensure that his readers will not deceive themselves about love. Because it is easier for us to love what we see rather than what we do not see, therefore, one who hates his brother cannot truthfully claim to love God, particularly since God Himself has commanded us to love one another.
St. John’s understanding of love is based first on the Commandments of God (See Det. 6: 4 and following). Secondly he draws on our Lord’s emphatic affirmation of His Father’s Commandments (See Mk. 12: 29 to 31 and Lev. 19: 18). Thirdly, he recalls our Lord’s statement that, “I have a new commandment to give you ….. that your love for one another is to be like the love I have borne you”. (See Jn. 13: 34 and 35). In the latter, our Lortd claims to be Himself, the perfect manifestation of God’s love. His commandment is “new” in that we are to share in the manifestation of this love through our union with Him. St. John, again, is reading out to former pagans to draw them into the life and love of God’s people through Christ.
31. 1 John 5 verses 1 and 2
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten
by God, and everyone who loves the father loves (also) the
one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God when
we love God and obey his commandments.
Further proof that faith and love unite us to God and to one another is this: belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah must precede baptism. Through this sacrament we are ‘born of God’ and become children of God. It also gives us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and thus infuses within us a love of God together with a love of others who are ‘born of him’. Thus St. John, having shown what he means by the love that is rooted in faith, now proceeds to expand on the nature of this faith that gives meaning to love. The love that constitutes us children of God is always expressed in our Christian faith. St. John here talks of ‘children of God’ rather than ‘the brethren’ in order to stress that this love is a dimension of the love of God. Thus when we truly love ‘Him who begot’, we also love any ‘begotten of Him’, i.e. one of our own kind. St. John thus emphasises not only inclusivity of his readers and listeners as members of God’s people, but challenges them likewise to reach out to others by their Christ-like love for them.
32. 1 John 5 verses 3 to 5
For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who (indeed) is the victor over the world but the one who
believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
St. John continues to explain the basis of love. The sign of love is obedience to the commandments. In the restoration of humanity to its intended status and destiny requires obedience to the duties God places before every person. This is a very Hebraic understanding and St. John goes to great lengths to win his listeners over to our Lord. “Yes”, he implies, “God’s commandments are demanding, yet no one should expect to be able to obey them perfectly without God’s help.”
It is He Who enables us to obey — that’s a paradox — but the more we believe in and rely on His strength, the more we find we can actually carry out what He commands. In this way St. John offers encouragement to those struggling with attraction to worldly values and lifestyles. He never misses a chance to extend Christ’s call to include all who would listen and follow the Biblical model of life in Christ.
The baptised member of Christ’s body (the Church), is possessed of the power to overcome all hostile forces that would prevent his obedience to God’s commandments. The acceptance of Jesus in His true character, as Son of God, (verse 5), is the source of the Christian’s power.
Thus St. John emphatically dismisses the false teaching that God’s commandments are impossible, even to the most devout follower using all their endeavours. “And this is the victory” he writes, “that overcomes the world, our faith”. That is, a lively faith, working by charity, makes one victorious over the greatest temptation, and over all the adversaries of one’s salvation. A faith, he insists, a faith working by charity — not a bare speculative or dead faith (Gal 5: 6). We therefore go forward, facing what might look like the impossible — but which, with the help of God’s grace — is no barrier to the true believer.
33. 1 John 5 verse 6
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the
one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. This is he who came in
water and in blood, Jesus Christ; not in the water only but in
the water and in the blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness
that Christ is the truth.
St. John explains further that Christ came to make us victors by purifying and redeeming us, and by the effusion of the Spirit. He made victory possible for us not merely by the water of baptism but both by the water and by His blood. The Spirit also continually bears reliable witness, because the Spirit is Truth itself.
This verse and in fact the next as well, have been difficult for translators, as some manuscripts carry extra words. Both Catholic and Protestant scholars have, again, both defended and raised doubts about their original authenticity. These can cause different renderings, but do not alter the essence and power of St. John’s teaching.
Some examples of alternative explanations of this verse include the following:
• “Here it is who fulfilled His mission by His Baptism (the inauguration of our Lord’s public life) by His passion and by sending His Spirit.” Literally, “this is He who came by water and blood, etc”.
• According to St. Augustine, St. John seeks to prove the reality of the Incarnation, and refers to the water and the blood which issued from Christ’s side when it was pierced (John 19: 34).
• Others see a reference to Baptism and the Eucharist.
• The Venerable Bede combines the two interpretations — “He came by water and blood, namely, the water of baptism and the blood of His passion. He deigned not only to be baptised that He might consecrate and give to us the sacrament of Baptism, but He also gave His blood for us, redeeming us by His passion, and being always refreshed with the sacraments, we are nourished unto salvation.”
34. 1 John 5 verses 7 and 8
So there are three that testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.
Verses 7 and 8, provide a beautiful and carefully presented testimony to God’s perfect plan of our salvation. In the text we print below, the bold words within the square brackets do not appear in all manuscripts. As explained in the note on verse 6, scholars of all Christian persuasions have both defended them as original or considered them an addition, however well-intentioned. We include them, since their witness, as indicated in the scriptures, is absolutely certain and undeniable.
Commenting first on verse 7.
According to what is called the Clementine Vulgate translation,
the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are the heavenly witnesses
to Christ’s divinity, corresponding to threefold witness on earth.
The Father gave testimony at the baptism, and the transfiguration
Mt 17: 5 and in the temple court, Jn 12: 28; the Word repeatedly
gave testimony to his divinity by his words and works during his
public ministry; the Holy Spirit likewise testified at the baptism
on the day of Pentecost, and later through the Apostles.
“And these three are one,” have one identical nature.
Commenting on verse 8.
The Jewish law required the agreement of two or three witnesses
for satisfactory evidence, Deut 19: 15. That is why St. John produces
the threefold witness, and adds: ‘and these three are one’, i.e. they
all proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ.
35. 1 John 5 verses 9 and 10
If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely
greater. Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified
on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within
himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
St. John continues his sub-section on witnesses to Christ. If a threefold human witness is accepted to confirm the truth of a matter, how can anyone dare to set aside a threefold divine testimony and thereby virtually make God a liar? Refusal to believe means rejection of this reliable witness; hence it amounts to blasphemy (See John 8: 39 – 44).
36. 1 John 5 verses 11 and 12
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this
life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess
the Son of God does not have life.
St. John now declares one of the most treasured of his explanations. Christian faith is not simply the acceptance of a proposition, a popular theory or some fascinating collection of beliefs and customs; it is the reception of a Person, who brings eternal life (See John 1: 4).
The gift of eternal life that is possessed by faith is not a promise only, but a present reality. Therefore, “he who has the Son” through faith “also has the life” here and now! With this certitude, countless witnesses to Christ, the martyrs throughout the history of the Church, have endured the most dreadful sufferings and cruel persecution, without any thought of themselves.
37. 1 John 5 verses 13 to 15
I write these things to you so that you may know that you have
eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything
according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
St. John draws together his purpose in writing in a way which reminds us of the conclusion of his Gospel (John 20: 31). The purpose of the Epistle, like that of the Gospel, is to awaken in its readers a realisation that a firm hope of attaining eternal life is theirs, because they believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The possession of eternal life of which he has reassured us naturally evokes the thought of confidence in God — which he has mentioned previously. This confidence then assures us of an answer to prayer. However, as previously explained, faithfulness to God’s will is the necessary condition of the efficacy of prayer. Assuming a follower of Christ is genuinely faithful, whatever is asked of God, has already been given in the asking.
38. 1 John 5 verses 16 and 17
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly,
he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only
for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as
deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.
Continuing his theme of confidence in prayer, St. John explains this confidence extends to all the members of the church and should encourage the faithful to pray for those who have fallen into sin. The Apostle distinguishes a ‘sin unto death’ which from the context seems to mean deliberate apostasy from the faith, a denial that Jesus is the Son of God. Since such sinners cut themselves off from their brethren, St. John does not ask his readers to pray for them, though he does not expressly forbid such prayers, nor does he say the fate of the apostate is sealed. God alone can determine whether one is finally impenitent or not. Our faith teaches us that God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live (Ezekiel 33: 11; also John 17: 3).
39. 1 John 5 verses 18 to 20
We know that no one begotten by God sins; but the one
begotten by God he protects, and the evil one cannot touch him.
We know that we belong to God, and the whole world is under
the power of the evil one.
We also know that the Son of God has come and has given
us discernment to know the one who is true. And we are in
the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God
and eternal life.
St. John restates the main purpose of this Epistle by a threefold repetition of ‘we know':
First, God’s children do not commit sin, i.e. they receive abundant
grace to avoid deliberate sin, and their love for their heavenly Father
prompts them to use this grace.
Secondly, we are born of God and are thus out of reach of the wicked
world unless we permit it to lure us.
Thirdly, we know God through faith in His Son who became man that
we might be incorporated into His Mystical Body. This Son is true God,
and is our hope for eternal life.
40. 1 John 5 verse 21 2
Children, be on your guard against idols.
We end our series of forty short readings from St. John’s First Epistle with the shortest of all: a timeless warning in seven words plus a closing Amen. This final; admonition may in fact, be the most practical advice in a world surrounded by paganism and countless false idols, if one is to remain faithful to God. His seemingly abrupt ending needed no elaboration. There would be on-going attraction to go with the crowd and live a life pre-occupied with seeking popular approval, pleasure and amusement as well as personal gain and self-promotion. Many false teachers would merge these pursuits with their compromised doctrine to gain followers. His Epistle had warned his readers that there would be an ever-present danger of false teaching gaining entry into the Church like a Trojan Horse and spreading its disastrous influence whilst being welcomed and praised as — of all things — the work of the Holy Spirit. Take guard, he warns. No one can presume they will never be hoodwinked, misled, and ultimately destroyed.
Each person, says St John, must take personal responsibility to guard themselves, implying never let down your defenses! He had already explained in detail how to keep idols at a safe distance:
• rejoice constantly as a member of God’s Household, in your
fellowship with God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;
• love your sisters and brothers and thus abide in the Light;
• keep your heart full of gratitude for your sins have been forgiven;
• be faithful to your anointing from the Holy One;
• as children of God be ready to see Him as He is for when He
appears we shall be “like to Him” and we shall see Him just as He is;
• keep the Commandments and thus abide in God — as God will abide in you;
• value the abiding of Jesus Christ within you above all else —
“He who has the Son has the Life”;
• remain confident that anything you ask Of God which is within
His Holy Will is yours for the asking;
• follow the teachings of the Apostles and those whom they
appointed, always on guard against antichrist and false teaching;
• keep your eyes, ears, mind and heart focused on your heavenly
home where you will one day take your rightful place as a member
of God’s household for all eternity.
To God be the glory.