Commentary Compilation 1 John 2:7-11
Resources for 1 John 2:7-11
James M. Boice Commentary
1 John 2:7–11 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
In an appendix to his excellent book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, Francis Schaeffer speaks of love as “the mark of the Christian.” His study is based on John 13:34–35, in which Christ is recorded as having imparted a new commandment to his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Schaeffer’s point is that “only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”
He is right. It may be added to this, however, that it is also by love that Christians may know that they are Christians. That is, a Christian may know that he has been truly made alive by Christ when he finds himself beginning to love and actually loving those others for whom Christ died.
This is the theme of the next section of 1 John, for it is in these verses (2:7–11) that the aged apostle develops the second or social test for whether a person who considers himself to know God actually knows him or does not. The first test is found in verses 3–6. It is the moral test, the test of righteousness. The third test is found in verses 18–27. It is the test of belief or sound doctrine. Here, however, the test is love. Does the one who professes to love God love others as well? If he does, he can be sure that he has been made alive by God. If he does not, John says, such a person has no more right to consider himself a child of God than does the one who says that he knows God but disregards his commandments.
The section is divided into two parts: first, the law of love, and second, the life of love. The second part contains three contrasting applications of the basic principle.
The Law of Love (vv. 7–8)
In the preceding verses John admonished believers to keep God’s commandments. But this was a general statement. Now he brings forward one command specifically: the command to love. It is true that verses 7 and 8 do not contain the word love and that, in fact, it is only mentioned once in the entire section (in v. 10). But the commandment to love is what John obviously has in mind, as the reference to the “new commandment” of John 13 clearly indicates. The progression of thought is that if a person knows God, he will keep God’s commandments, and that if he keeps God’s commandments, he will love others in accord with Christ’s teaching.
Love as an Old Commandment
There is nothing fundamentally new in all this, however, for John reminds his readers that the command is that which they have had from the beginning. It is possible to take this last phrase in at least two ways. It may refer to the beginning of Christianity, as the same phrase seems to do in chapter 1. Or it may be taken as referring to the beginning of revealed religion, that is, to the commandment as it existed in the Old Testament era. It is probably best to take it in the latter sense, for it is easier to see an old-new contrast between the law of love as contained in the Old Testament and the law of love as restated by Jesus for Christians, than to imagine a contrast between what existed from the beginning of Christianity and what is nevertheless in some sense still new as John writes his letter.
The command to love is old in that it existed and was known before Christ’s coming. In its simplest form it is found in Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This is the verse to which Jesus referred when he was asked his opinion regarding the first and greatest commandment. He said that the greatest commandment was that recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” But the second, he said, was the one found in Leviticus 19:18.
Love as a New Commandment
In what sense, then, is the command to love a new commandment? It is new in that it was raised to an entirely new emphasis and level by the teaching and example of Jesus. William Barclay suggests two ways in which this is true, to which we may also add a third.
First, in Jesus, love became new in “the extent to which it reached.” In Christ’s day love was not new, but at the same time there were few who would consider love to be an obligation beyond a fairly limited circle of close friends or, at the widest extent, one’s nation. To the orthodox Jew the sinner was not to be loved. Rather, he was one whom God obviously wished to destroy. Nor were Gentiles to be loved. They were created by God for hell. By contrast, Jesus extended his love to everyone. He became the “friend of sinners,” a sympathetic listener and teacher of women (who were also despised), and eventually the one through whom salvation was extended even to the gentile world. His last words to his disciples were that they were to make disciples “of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and that they were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Second, in Jesus love became new in “the lengths to which it would go.” Here one must look to the cross, for it is at the cross that the height and depth of God’s love is seen, as it is not seen to the same degree anywhere else. To what length will the love of God go? To the length at which the very Son of God will take upon himself a human form, die on a cross, and there bear the sin of a fallen race, so that in bearing the punishment for that sin he is actually alienated for a time from God the Father and thus cries out in deep agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). That is the extent to which the love of God goes. It is thus that love becomes an entirely new thing in Christ.
Third, in Jesus love is made new in “the degree to which it is realized.” John indicates this by adding in verse 8, “Its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” In this verse “true” (alēthes, alēthinos) means “genuine,” and the point is that the true or genuine love, like genuine righteousness, is now being seen not only in Jesus but in those who are made alive in him as well. In this sense, what was not possible under the Old Testament dispensation is now possible; for the life of Jesus, which expresses itself in love, is in his people.
The Life of Love (vv. 9–11)
John has stated that the darkness is passing away and that the true light is shining; but, nevertheless, the darkness is not completely gone yet, nor is the light seen everywhere or in everyone. Therefore, he brings forward three examples of those to whom the test of love may be applied. There are two negative examples and one positive one.
Profession Without Love
The first example is of the person who “claims to be in the light but hates his brother.” John says that he is “still in the darkness.” The wording of this verse (“Anyone who claims”) recalls the similar and somewhat parallel statements in chapter 1 (“If we claim,” vv. 6, 8, 10), and its place in the argument corresponds directly with 2:4: “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” In this case, however, John does not say that the one professing to know God while actually hating his brother is a liar, though that is true also, but rather that he is in darkness and walks in darkness until now. In this verse the reference is obviously to John’s Gnostic opponents, as is also the case in the other verses that begin “If we claim.” The Gnostic claimed to be the enlightened one. But he is actually in darkness, says John, if he fails to love his brother.
Paul said the same thing in writing to the Corinthians about love: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Plummer states, “The light in a man is darkness until it is warmed by love.”
Love Arising Out of Light
The second example is the positive one. This is the person who shows that he abides in the light by loving his brother. John says that in this behavior “there is nothing to make him stumble.”
The idea of stumbling may be applied in either of two ways. First, it may be applied to others in the sense that the one loving his brother not only walks in the light himself but also is free of having caused others to offend. This is the general meaning of the word in the rest of the New Testament. On the other hand, it can also apply to the individual himself in the sense that, if he loves, he walks in the light and therefore does not himself stumble. The context almost demands this second explanation, for the point of the verses is not what happens to others but rather the effect of love and hate on the individual himself. The negative equivalent of this statement occurs just one verse later. In these verses John introduces the important idea that “our love and hatred not only reveal whether we are already in the light or in the darkness, but actually contribute towards the light or the darkness in which we already are.” The one who walks in the light has more light day by day. The one who walks in darkness is increasingly darkened.
Hate Leading to Greater Darkness
The last of John’s examples is again negative and follows naturally upon what precedes it. He has spoken of the man who loves his brother and has shown the consequences of so walking. Now he returns to the case of the one who hates his brother and shows the consequences of that. There are three consequences. After these, John appends a final and summarizing explanation.
The first consequence is in the nature of an observation: the one who hates his brother is in darkness. This is the simplest expression of the test in its negative form. The second consequence is that he walks in darkness. This adds the idea of continuing action or a continuing sphere of activity. It is not just that the man who fails to love his brother is without knowledge of God; it is also that everything he does is in darkness and is characterized by darkness. He continues in it. Finally, John adds that although he continues in his darkened walk, he does so without any clear knowledge of a goal. He walks on, for the way of the ungodly is one of restless activity. But he “does not know where he is going” (cf. John 12:35).
There is only one explanation for this incredible state of affairs, a state in which men walk in darkness even though the true light is shining and do not have a goal even though God’s goal in Christ has been made clear. It is that men are blind and cannot see the light nor discern the goal. Clearly there is no hope for such except in God, who is able to give sight to the blind and direct the sinner’s feet in the paths of righteousness.
This last verse introduces a term that may be applied to the life of love. It is the term “walk,” which suggests practical steps. What is love after all? It is not just a certain benign feeling. It is not a smile. It is an attitude that determines what one does. Therefore, it is impossible to speak of love in the Christian sense without at least suggesting some of the actions that ought to flow from it, just as it is impossible to speak of the love of God without mentioning such things as the creation of man in his image, the giving of the Old Testament revelation, the coming of Christ, the cross, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and other realities.
What does love mean? What will happen if those who profess the life of Christ actually love one another? Francis Schaeffer, who was referred to at the beginning of this chapter, has several suggestions.
First, it will mean that when a Christian has failed to love his brother and has therefore acted wrongly toward him, he will go to him and say he is sorry. That sounds easy, but it is not, as anyone who has tried it knows. Nevertheless, this more than anything else expresses love and restores that oneness which Jesus said should flow from the fact that Christians do love one another and by which their profession is verified before the world.
Second, because the offense is often the other way, we are to show our love by forgiveness. This too is hard, particularly when the other person does not say “I’m sorry.” Schaeffer writes,
We must all continually acknowledge that we do not practice the forgiving heart as we should. And yet the prayer is, “Forgive us our debts, our trespasses, as we forgive our debtors.” We are to have a forgiving spirit even before the other person expresses regret for his wrong. The Lord’s prayer does not suggest that when the other man is sorry, then we are to show a oneness by having a forgiving spirit. Rather, we are called upon to have a forgiving spirit without the other man having made the first step. We may still say that he is wrong, but in the midst of saying that he is wrong, we must be forgiving.
John himself learned love at this point, for early in his life he was known as one of the “sons of thunder.” He once wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:54). But as he came to know more of that Spirit he was of, he came increasingly to call for love among the brethren.
Third, we must show love by practical demonstration, even when it is costly. Love cost the Samaritan in Christ’s parable. It cost him time and money. Love cost the shepherd who endured hardship to hunt for his sheep. Love cost Mary of Bethany who, out of her love, broke the box of priceless ointment over the feet of Jesus. Love will be costly to all who practice it. But what is purchased thereby will be of great value, though intangible; for it will be proof of the presence of the life of God both to the individual Christian and to the watching world.
Warren Wiersbe Bible Exposition Comm.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
1 John 2:7–11
I just love that hat!”
“Man, I really love the old-fashioned kind of baked beans!”
“But, Mom, don’t you realize that Tom and I love each other?”
Words, like coins, can be in circulation for such a long time that they start wearing out. Unfortunately, the word love (or, as it is now sometimes spelled, luv) is losing its value and is being used to cover a multitude of sins.
It is really difficult to understand how a man can use the same word to express his love for his wife as he uses to tell how he feels about baked beans! When words are used that carelessly they really mean little or nothing at all. Like the dollar, they have been devalued.
As John describes the life that is real, he uses three words repeatedly: life, love, and light. In fact, he devotes three sections of his letter to the subject of Christian love. He explains that love, life, and light belong together. Read these three sections (1 John 2:7–11; 3:10–24; 4:7–21) without the intervening verses and you will see that love, life, and light must not be separated.
In our present study (1 John 2:7–11), we learn how Christian love is affected by light and darkness. A Christian who is walking in the light (which simply means he is obeying God) is going to love his brother Christian.
In 1 John 3:10–24, we are told that Christian love is a matter of life or death: to live in hatred is to live in spiritual death. In 1 John 4:7–21 we see that Christian love is a matter of truth or error (cf. 1 John 4:6): because we know God’s love toward us, we show God’s love toward others.
In these three sections, then, we find three good reasons why Christians should love one another:
- God has commanded us to love (1 John 2:7–11).
- We have been born of God and God’s love lives in us (1 John 3:10–24).
- God first revealed His love to us (1 John 4:7–21). “We love … because He first loved us.”
John not only writes about love but also practices it. One of his favorite names for his readers is “Beloved.” He felt love for them. John is known as the “Apostle of Love” because in his Gospel and his epistles he gives such prominence to this subject. However, John was not always the “Apostle of Love.” At one time Jesus gave John and his brother James, both of whom had hot tempers, the nickname “Boanerges” (Mark 3:17), which means “sons of thunder.” On another occasion these two brothers wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village (Luke 9:51–56).
Since the New Testament was written in Greek, the writers were often able to use more precise language. It is unfortunate that our English word love has so many shades of meaning (some of them contradictory). When we read in 1 John about “love,” the Greek word used is agape (ah-GAH-pay), the word for God’s love toward man, a Christian’s love for other Christians, and God’s love for His church (Eph. 5:22–33).
Another Greek word for love, philia (fee-LEE-ah), used elsewhere, carries the idea of “friendship love,” which is not quite as profound or divine as agape love. (The Greek word for sensual love, eros, from which we get our word erotic, is not used at all in the New Testament.)
The amazing thing is that Christian love is both old and new (1 John 2:7–8). This seems to be a contradiction. Love itself, of course, is not new, nor is the commandment—that men love God and each other—a new thing. Jesus Himself combined two Old Testament commandments, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and said (Mark 12:28–34) that these two commandments summarize all the Law and the Prophets. Loving God and loving one’s neighbor were old, familiar responsibilities before Jesus ever came to earth.
In what sense, then, is “love one another” a “new” (1 John 2:8) commandment? Again, a look at the Greek helps to answer the question.
The Greeks had two different words for “new”—one means “new in time,” and the other means “new in quality.” For example, you would use the first word to describe the latest car, a recent model. But if you purchased a car that was so revolutionary that it was radically different, you would use the second word—new in quality. (Our English words “recent” and “fresh” just about make this distinction: “recent” means new in time, “fresh” means new in character.)
The commandment to love one another is not new in time, but it is new in character. Because of Jesus Christ, the old commandment to “love one another” has taken on new meaning. We learn in these five brief verses (1 John 2:7–11) that the commandment is new in three important ways.
It Is New in Emphasis (1 John 2:7)
In the previous paragraph (1 John 2:3–6), John has been talking about “the commandments” in general, but now he narrows his focus down to one single commandment.In the Old Testament, the command that God’s people love one another was only one of many, but now this old commandment is lifted out and given a place of preeminence.
How is it possible for one commandment to stand head and shoulders above all the others? This is explained by the fact that love is the fulfillment of God’s Law (Rom. 13:8–10).
Parents must care for their children according to law. Child neglect is a serious crime. But how many parents have a conversation like this when the alarm clock goes off in the morning?
She: “Honey, you’d better get up and go to work. We don’t want to get arrested.”
He: “Yeah, and you’d better get up and get breakfast for the kids, and get their clothes ready. The cops might show up and put us both in jail.”
She: “You’re right. Boy, it’s a good thing they have a law, or we’d stay in bed all day!”
It’s doubtful that the fear of the law is often the motive behind earning a living or caring for one’s children. Parents fulfill their responsibilities (even if grudgingly on occasion) because they love each other and their children. To them, doing the right thing is not a matter of law—it’s a matter of love.
The commandment “Love one another” is the fulfillment of God’s Law in the same way. When you love people, you do not lie about them or steal from them. You have no desire to kill them. Love for God and love for others motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about them! When a person acts out of Christian love he obeys God and serves others—not because of fear, but because of his love.
This is why John says that “Love one another” is a new commandment—it is new in emphasis. It is not simply one of many commandments. No, it stands at the top of the list!
But it is new in emphasis in another way too. It stands at the very beginning of the Christian life. “The old commandment is the word which ye had from the beginning” (1 John 2:7). This phrase “from the beginning” is used in two different ways in John’s letter, and it is important that you distinguish them. In 1 John 1:1, describing the eternality of Christ, we read that He existed “from the beginning.” In John 1:1—a parallel verse—we read, “In the beginning was the Word.”
But in 1 John 2:7, the subject is the beginning of the Christian life. The commandment to love one another is not an appendix to our Christian experience, as though God had an afterthought. No! It is in our hearts from the very beginning of our faith in Jesus Christ. If this were not so, John could not have written, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14, nasb). And Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, nasb).
By nature, an unsaved person may be selfish and even hateful. As much as we love a newborn baby, we must confess that the infant is self-centered and thinks the whole world revolves around his crib. The child is typical of an unsaved person. “We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This unretouched photo of the unbeliever may not be beautiful, but it is certainly accurate! Some unregenerate persons do not display the traits here mentioned, but the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) are always potentially present in their dispositions.
When a sinner trusts Christ, he receives a new life and a new nature. The Holy Spirit of God comes to live in him and the love of God is “shed abroad in [his] heart” by the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). God does not have to give a new believer a long lecture about love! “For ye yourselves are taught of God [i.e., by the Holy Spirit within you] to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9). A new believer discovers that he now hates what he used to love, and that he loves what he used to hate!
So the commandment to love one another is new in emphasis: it is one of the most important commandments Christ gave us (John 13:34). In fact, “love one another” is repeated at least a dozen times in the New Testament (John 13:34; 15:9, 12, 17; Rom. 13:8; 1 Thes. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11–12; 2 John 5). And there are many other references to brotherly love.
It is important that we understand the meaning of Christian love. It is not a shallow sentimental emotion that Christians try to “work up” so they can get along with each other. It is a matter of the will rather than an emotion—an affection for and attraction to certain persons. It is a matter of determining—of making up your mind—that you will allow God’s love to reach others through you, and then of acting toward them in loving ways. You are not to act “as if you loved them,” but because you love them. This is not hypocrisy—it is obedience to God.
Perhaps the best explanation of Christian love is 1 Corinthians 13. You should read a modern translation of this chapter to get the full force of its message: the Christian life without love is NOTHING!
But the commandment “Love one another” is not only new in emphasis. It is new in another way.
It Is New in Example (1 John 2:8)
“Love one another,” John points out, was first true in Christ, and now it is true in the lives of those who are trusting Christ. Jesus Himself is the greatest Example of this commandment.
Later on we will think about that great statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but it is anticipated here. When one looks at Jesus Christ, one sees love embodied and exemplified. In commanding us to love, Jesus does not ask us to do something that He has not already done Himself. The four Gospel records are the account of a life lived in the spirit of love—and that life was lived under conditions far from ideal. Jesus says to us, in effect, “I lived by this great commandment, and I can enable you to follow My example.”
Jesus illustrated love by the very life that He lived. He never showed hatred or malice. His righteous soul hated all sin and disobedience, but He never hated the people who committed such sins. Even in His righteous announcements of judgment, there was always an undercurrent of love.
It is encouraging to think of Jesus’ love for the twelve disciples. How they must have broken His heart again and again as they argued over who was the greatest, or tried to keep people from seeing their Master. Each of them was different from the others, and Christ’s love was broad enough to include each one in a personal, understanding way. He was patient with Peter’s impulsiveness, Thomas’ unbelief, and even Judas’ treachery. When Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, He was only telling them to do as He had done.
Consider too our Lord’s love for all kinds of people. The publicans and sinners were attracted (Luke 15:1) by His love, and even the lowest of the low could weep at His feet (Luke 7:36–39). Spiritually hungry rabbi Nicodemus could meet with Him privately at night (John 3:1–21), and 4,000 of the “common people” could listen to His teaching for three days (Mark 8:1–9) and then receive a miraculous meal from Him. He held babies in His arms. He spoke about children at play. He even comforted the women who wept as the soldiers led Him out to Calvary.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Jesus’ love was the way it touched even the lives of His enemies. He looked with loving pity on the religious leaders who in their spiritual blindness accused Him of being in league with Satan (Matt. 12:24). When the mob came to arrest Him, He could have called on the armies of heaven for protection, but He yielded to His enemies. And then He died for them—for His enemies! “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, italics added). But Jesus died not only for His friends, but also for His foes! And as they crucified Him, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In His life, in His teachings, and in His death, Jesus is the perfect Example of this new commandment, “Love one another.” And this is what helps to make the commandment “new.” In Christ we have a new illustration of the old truth that God is love and that the life of love is the life of joy and victory.
What is true in Christ ought to be true in each believer. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). A believer should live a life of Christian love “because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8, nasb). This reminds us of the emphasis (1 John 1) on walking in the light. Two ways of life are contrasted: those who walk in the light practice love; those who walk in the darkness practice hatred. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes this truth.
“The darkness is passing away,” but the light does not yet shine fully all over the world, nor does it penetrate every area of even a believer’s life.
When Christ was born, “the Dayspring from on high” visited the world (Luke 1:78). “Dayspring” means sunrise. The birth of Christ was the beginning of a new day for mankind! As He lived before men, taught them, and ministered to them, He spread the light of life and love. “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matt. 4:16).
But there is a conflict in this world between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. “And the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness is not able to put it out” (John 1:5, lit.). Satan is the Prince of darkness, and he extends his evil kingdom by means of lies and hatred. Christ is the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), and He extends His kingdom by means of truth and love.
The kingdoms of Christ and of Satan are in conflict today, but “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18). The darkness is passing away little by little, and the True Light is shining brighter and brighter in our hearts.
Jesus Christ is the standard of love for Christians. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another,” He says; “as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). And He repeats: “This is My commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12, italics added). We are not to measure our Christian love against the love of some other Christian (and we usually pick somebody whose life is more of an excuse than an example!) but against the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. The old commandment becomes “new” to us as we see it fulfilled in Christ.
So the commandment, “Love one another,” is new in emphasis and new in example. It is also new in a third way.
It Is New in Experience (1 John 2:9–11)
Our passage continues the illustration of light and darkness. If a Christian walks in the light and is in fellowship with God, he will also be in fellowship with others in God’s family. Love and light go together, much as hatred and darkness go together.
It is easy to talk about Christian love, but much more difficult to practice it. For one thing, such love is not mere talk (1 John 2:9). For a Christian to say (or sing!) that he loves the brethren, while he actually hates another believer, is for him to lie. In other words (and this is a sobering truth), it is impossible to be in fellowship with the Father and out of fellowship with another Christian at the same time.
This is one reason why God established the local church, the fellowship of believers. “You can’t be a Christian alone”—a person cannot live a complete and developing Christian life unless he is in fellowship with God’s people. The Christian life has two relationships: the vertical (Godward) and the horizontal (manward). And what God has joined together, man must not put asunder! And each of these two relationships is to be one of love, one for the other.
Jesus deals with this matter in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 5:21–26). A gift on the altar was valueless as long as the worshiper had a dispute to settle with his brother. Note that Jesus does not say that the worshiper had something against his brother, but that the brother had something against the worshiper. But even when we have been offended, we should not wait for the one who has offended us to come to us; we should go to him. If we do not, Jesus warns us that we will end up in a prison of spiritual judgment where we will have to pay the last penny (Matt. 18:21–35). In other words, when we harbor an unforgiving, unloving spirit, we harm ourselves most.
The contrast between “saying” and “doing” is one we have met before (1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6). It is easy to practice a Christianity of “words”—singing the right songs, using the right vocabulary, praying the right prayers—and, through it all, deceiving ourselves into thinking we are spiritual. This mistake also ties into something Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33–37). What we say should be the true expression of our character. We should not need extra words (“oaths”) to fortify what we say. Our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. So, if we say we are in the light, we will prove it by loving the brethren. Many Christians urgently need to be accepted, loved, and encouraged.
Contrary to popular opinion, Christian love is not “blind.” When we practice true Christian love, we find life getting brighter and brighter. Hatred is what darkens life! When true Christian love flows out of our hearts, we will have greater understanding and perception in spiritual things. This is why Paul prays that our love may grow in knowledge and perception, “that ye may distinguish the things that differ” (cf. Phil. 1:9–10). A Christian who loves his brother is a Christian who sees more clearly.
No book in the Bible illustrates the blinding power of hatred like the Book of Esther. The events recorded there take place in Persia, where many of the Jews were living after the Captivity. Haman, one of the king’s chief men, had a burning hatred for the Jews. The only way he could satisfy this hatred was to see the whole nation destroyed. He plunged ahead in an evil plot, completely blind to the fact that the Jews would win and that he himself would be destroyed.
Hatred is blinding people today too.
Christian love is not a shallow sentiment, a passing emotion that we perhaps experience in a church service. Christian love is a practical thing; it applies in the everyday affairs of life. Just consider the “one another” statements in the New Testament and you will see how practical it is to love one another. Here are just a few (there are over twenty such statements):
Wash one another’s feet (John 13:14).
Prefer one another (Rom. 12:10).
Be of the same mind one to another (Rom. 12:16).
Do not judge one another (Rom. 14:13).
Receive one another (Rom. 15:7).
Admonish one another (Rom. 15:14).
Edify [build up] one another (1 Thes. 5:11).
Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16).
Use hospitality one to another (1 Peter 4:9).
In short, to love other Christians means to treat them the way God treats them—and the way God treats us. Christian love that does not show itself in action and in attitude (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4–7) is spurious.
What happens to a believer who does not love the brethren? We have already seen the first tragic result: he lives in the darkness, though he probably thinks he is living in the light (1 John 2:9). He thinks he sees, but he is actually blinded by the darkness of hatred. This is the kind of person who causes trouble in Christian groups. He thinks he is a “spiritual giant,” with great understanding, when actually he is a babe with very little spiritual perception. He may read the Bible faithfully and pray fervently, but if he has hatred in his heart, he is living a lie.
The second tragic result is that such a believer becomes a cause of stumbling (cf. 1 John 2:10). It is bad enough when an unloving believer hurts himself (1 John 2:9); but when he starts to hurt others the situation is far more serious. It is serious to walk in the darkness. It is dangerous to walk in the darkness when stumbling blocks are in the way! An unloving brother stumbles himself, and in addition he causes others to stumble.
A man who was walking down a dark street one night saw a pinpoint of light coming toward him in a faltering way. He thought perhaps the person carrying the light was ill or drunk; but as he drew nearer he could see a man with a flashlight carrying a white cane.
“Why would a blind man be carrying a light?” the man wondered, and then he decided to ask.
The blind man smiled. “I carry my light, not so I can see, but so that others can see me. I cannot help being blind,” he said, “but I can help being a stumbling block.”
The best way to help other Christians not to stumble is to love them. Love makes us stepping-stones; hatred (or any of its “cousins,” such as envy or malice) makes us stumbling blocks. It is important that Christians exercise love in a local church, or else there will always be problems and disunity. When we are falling over each other, instead of lifting each other higher, we will never become a truly happy spiritual family.
Apply this, for instance, to the delicate matter of “questionable things” (Rom. 14–15). Since believers come from different backgrounds, they do not always agree. In Paul’s day, they differed on such matters as diets and holy days. One group said it was unspiritual to eat meat offered to idols. Another group wanted strict observance of the Sabbath. There were several facets to the problem, but basic to its solution was: “Love one another!” Paul puts it this way: “Let us not, therefore, judge one another anymore; but judge this, rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way … But if thy brother be grieved with thy food, now walkest thou not in love” (Rom. 14:13, 15, soc).
A third tragic result of hatred is that it retards a believer’s spiritual progress (1 John 2:11). A blind man—a person who is walking in darkness—can never find his way! The only atmosphere that is conducive to spiritual growth is the atmosphere of spiritual light—of love. Just as the fruits and flowers need sunshine, so God’s people need love if they are going to grow.
The commandment, “Love one another,” becomes new to us in our own day-by-day experience. It is not enough for us to recognize that it is new in emphasis and say, “Yes, love is important!” Nor is it enough for us to see God’s love exemplified by Jesus Christ. We must know this love in our own experience. The old commandment, “Love one another,” becomes a new commandment as we practice God’s love in daily life.
Thus far, we have seen the negative side of 1 John 2:9–11; now let’s look at the positive. If we practice Christian love, what will the wonderful results be?
First of all, we will be living in the light—living in fellowship with God and with our Christian brothers.
Second, we will not stumble or become stumbling blocks to others.
And, third, we will grow spiritually and will progress toward Christlikeness.
At this point, we should think about the contrast between the ugly “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19–21) and the beautiful fruit of the Spirit—“Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23).
When we are walking in the light, the “seed of the Word” (Luke 8:11) can take root and bear fruit. And the first cluster the Spirit produces is love!
But love does not live alone. Love produces joy! Hatred makes a man miserable, but love always brings him joy.
A Christian couple came to see a pastor because their marriage was beginning to fall apart. “We’re both saved,” the discouraged husband said, “but we just aren’t happy together. There’s no joy in our home.” As the pastor talked with them and they considered together what the Bible has to say, one fact became clear: both the husband and wife were nursing grudges. Each recalled many annoying little things the other had done!
“If you two really loved each other,” said the pastor, “you wouldn’t file these hurts away in your hearts. Grudges fester in our hearts like infected sores, and poison the whole system.”
Then he read, “[Love] thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5). He explained, “This means that love never keeps records of things others do that hurt us. When we truly love someone, our love covers their sins and helps to heal the wounds they cause.” Then he read, “And above all things have fervent love among yourselves; for love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, sco).
Before the couple left, the pastor counseled them: “Instead of keeping records of the things that hurt, start remembering the things that please. An unforgiving spirit always breeds poison, but a loving spirit that sees and remembers the best always produces health.”
A Christian who walks in love is always experiencing some new joy because the “fruit of the Spirit” is love and joy. And when we blend “love” and “joy,” we will have “peace”—and peace helps to produce “patience.” In other words, walking in the light, walking in love, is the secret of Christian growth, which nearly always begins with love.
Now, all of us must admit that we cannot generate Christian love under our own power. By nature, we are selfish and hateful. It is only as God’s Spirit floods our hearts with love that we, in turn, can love one another. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). The Spirit of God makes the commandment, “Love one another,” into a new and exciting day-by-day experience. If we walk in the light, God’s Spirit produces love. If we walk in darkness, our own selfish spirit produces hatred.
The Christian life—the life that is real—is a beautiful blending of “something old, something new.” The Holy Spirit takes the “old things” and makes them “new things” in our experience. When you stop to think about it, the Holy Spirit never grows old! He is always young! And He is the only Person on earth today who was here centuries ago when Jesus lived, taught, died, and rose again. He is the only One who can take “old truth” and make it fresh and new in our daily experience at this present time.
There are other exciting truths in the rest of John’s letter, but if we fail to obey in this matter of love, the rest of the letter may well be “darkness” to us. Perhaps the best thing we can do, right now, is to search our hearts to see if we hold anything against a brother, or if someone has anything against us. The life that is real is an honest life—and it is a life of doing, not merely saying. It is a life of active love in Christ. This means forgiveness, kindness, long-suffering. But it also means joy and peace and victory.
The love life is the only life, because it is the life that is real!
John MacArthur Study Bible
2:7–11 Love of the brethren constitutes the fourth test of genuine fellowship. The primary focus of the moral test is obedience to the command of love because love is the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 22:34–40; Rom. 13:8–10; James 2:8) and is also Christ’s new command (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). True enlightenment is to love. God’s light is the light of live, so to walk in light is to walk in love.
2:7 new. Not referring to “new” in the sense of time but something that is fresh in quality, kind or form; something that replaces something else that has been worn out. new commandment … old commandment. John makes a significant word play here. Though he doesn’t state here what the command is, he does in 2 John 5, 6. It is to love. Both of these phrases refer to the same commandment of love. The commandment of love was “new” because Jesus personified love in a fresh, new way and it was shed abroad in believers’ hearts (Rom. 5:5) and energized by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22; 1 Thess. 4:9). He raised love to a higher standard for the church and commanded His disciples to imitate His love (“as I have loved you”; cf. 3:16; John 13:34). The command was also “old” because the OT commanded love (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5) and the readers of John’s epistle had heard about Jesus’ command to love when they first heard the gospel. from the beginning. This phrase refers not to the beginning of time but the beginning of their Christian lives, as indicated by v. 24; 3:11; 2 John 6. This was part of the ethical instruction they received from the day of their salvation and not some innovation invented by John, as the heretics may have said.
2:9 hates. The original language conveys the idea of someone who habitually hates or is marked by a lifestyle of hate. in darkness until now. Those who profess to be Christians, yet are characterized by hate, demonstrate by such action that they have never been born again. The false teachers made claims to enlightenment, transcendent knowledge of God, and salvation, but their actions, especially the lack of love, proved all such claims false (see also v. 11).
John Calvin’s Commentary
1 John 2: 7–11
|7. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.||7. Fratres, non mandatum novurn mandment scribo vobis, sed mandatum vetus, quod habuistis ab initio: mandatum vetus est sermo quem audistis ab initio.|
|8. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.||8. Rursum mandatum novum scribo vobis, quae est veritas in ipso et in vobis; quia tenebrae transeunt, et lumen verum jam lucet.|
|9. He that saith he is in the light, hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.||9. Quia dicit se in luce esse, et fratrem suum odit, in tenchris est adhuc.|
|10. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him:||10. Qui dillgit fratrem suum, in luce manet, et offendiculum in eo non est.|
|11. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.||11. Qui vero fratrem suum odit, in tenebris ambulat, nec scit quo vadat, quia tenebrae excaecarunt oculos ejus.|
- 7. Brethren, I write no new commandment. This is an explanation of the preceding doctrine, that to love God is to keep his commandments. And not without reason did he largely dwell on this point. First, we know that novelty is disliked or suspected. Secondly, we do not easily undertake an unwonted yoke. In addition to these things, when we have embraced any kind of doctrine, we dislike to have anything changed or made new in it. For these reasons John reminds us, that he taught nothing respecting love but what had been heard by the faithful from the beginning, and had by long usage become old.
Some explain oldness differently, even that Christ now prescribes no other rule of life under the Gospel than what God did formerly under the Law. This is indeed most true; nor do I object but that he afterwards calls in this sense the word of the gospel the old commandment. But I think that he now means only, that these were the first elements of the gospel, that they had been thus taught from the beginning, that there was no reason why they should refuse that as unusual by which they ought to have been long ago imbued. For the relative seems to be used in a causative sense. He calls it then old, not because it was taught the fathers many ages before, but because it had been taught them on their new entrance into a religious life. And it served much to claim their faith, that it had proceeded from Christ himself from whom they had received the gospel.
The old commandment. The word old, in this place, probably extends further; for the sentence is fuller, when he says, the word which ye have heard from the beginning is the old commandment. And as I, indeed, think, he means that the gospel ought not to be received as a doctrine lately born, but what has proceeded from God, and is his eternal truth; as though he had said, “Ye ought not to measure the antiquity of the gospel which is brought to you, by time; since therein is revealed to you the eternal will of God: not only then has God delivered to you this rule of a holy life, when ye were first called to the faith of Christ, but the same has always been prescribed and approved by him.” And, doubtless, this only ought to be deemed antiquity, and deserves faith and reverence, which has its origin from God. For the fictions of men, whatever long prescription of years they may have, cannot acquire so much authority as to subvert the truth of God.
- 8. Again, a new commandment. Interpreters do not appear to me to have attained the meaning of the Apostle. He says new, because God, as it were, renews it by daily suggesting it, so that the faithful may practice it through their whole life, for nothing more excellent can be sought for by them. The elements which children learn give place in time to what is higher and more solid. On the contrary, John denies that the doctrine respecting brotherly love is of this kind, is one which grows old with time, but that it is perpetually in force, so that it is no less the highest perfection than the very beginning.
It was, however, necessary that this should be added, for as men are more curious than what they ought to be, there are many who always seek something new. Hence there is a weariness as to simple doctrine, which produces innumerable prodigies of errors, when every one gapes continually for new mysteries. Now, when it is known that the Lord proceeds in the same even course, in order to keep us through life in that which we have learnt, a bridle is east on desires of this kind. Let him, then, who would reach the goal of wisdom, as to the right way of living, make proficiency in love.
Which then is true, or which is truth. He proves by this reason what he had said; for this one command respecting love, as to our conduct in life, constitutes the whole truth of Christ. Besides, what other greater revelation can be expected? for Christ, doubtless, is the end and the completion of all things. Hence the word truth means this, that they stood, as it were at the goal, for it is to be taken for a completion or a perfect state. He joins Christ to them, as the head to the members, as though he had said, that the body of the Church has no other perfection, or, that they would then be really united to Christ, if holy love existed continually among them.
Some give another explanation, “That which is the truth in Christ, is also in you.” But I do not see what the meaning of this is.
Because the darkness is past. The present time is here instead of the past; for he means, that as soon as Christ brings light, we have the full brightness of knowledge: not that every one of the faithful becomes wise the first day as much as he ought to be, (for even Paul testifies that he labored to apprehend what he had not apprehended, (Philippians 3:12, ) but that the knowledge of Christ alone is sufficient to dissipate darkness. Hence, daily progress is necessary; and the faith of every one has its dawn before it reaches the noonday. But as God continues the inculcation of the same doctrine, in which he bids us to make advances, the knowledge of the Gospel is justly said to be the true light, when Christ, the Sun of righteousness, shines. Thus the way is shut up against the audacity of those men who try to corrupt the purity of the Gospel by their own fictions; and we may safely denounce an anathema on the whole theology of the Pope, for it wholly obscures the true light.
- 9. He that saith he is in the light. He pursues the same metaphor. He said that love is the only true rule according to which our life is to be formed; he said that this rule or law is presented to us in the Gospel; he said, lastly, that it is there as the meridian light, which ought to be continually looked on. Now, on the other hand, he concludes that all are blind and walk in darkness who are strangers to love. But that he mentioned before the love of God and now the love of the brethren, involves no more contrariety than there is between the effect and its cause. Besides, these are so connected together that they cannot be separated.
John says in the third chapter, that we falsely boast of love to God, except we love our brethren; and this is most true. But he now takes love to the brethren as a testimony by which we prove that we love God. In short, since love so regards God, that in God it embraces men, there is nothing strange in this, that the Apostle, speaking of love, should refer at one time to God, at another to the brethren; and this is what is commonly done in Scripture. The whole perfection of life is often said to consist in the love of God; and again, Paul teaches us, that the whole law is fulfilled by him who loves his neighbor, (Romans 13:8; ) and Christ declares that the main points of the law are righteousness, judgment, and truth. (Matthew 23:23.) Both these things are true and agree well together, for the love of God teaches us to love men, and we also in reality prove our love to God by loving men at his command. However this may be, it remains always certain that love is the rule of life. And this ought to be the more carefully noticed, because all choose rather almost anything else than this one command-merit of God.
To the same purpose is what follows, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him — that is, in him who acts in love; for, he who thus lives will never stumble.
- But he that hateth his brother. He again reminds us, that whatever specious appearance of excellency thou shewest, there is yet nothing but what is sinful if love be absent. This passage may be compared with the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and no long explanation is needed. But this doctrine is not understood by the world, because the greater part are dazzled by all sorts of masks or disguises. Thus, fictitious sanctity dazzles the eyes of almost all men, while love is neglected, or, at least, driven to the farthest corner.
Life Application Bible Commentary
2:7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment, for it is an old one you have always had, right from the beginning. This commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. This is a second way to discern genuine believers. Not only do they commit themselves to obeying God (2:3), but they also have deep and sincere love for fellow believers.
The commandment to love others is both old and new. For the Jews, the command to love others was as old as the Pentateuch (Leviticus 19:18). At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 nlt). Jesus called the commandment new because he interpreted it in a radically new way. The newness of Jesus’ command focused on the practice of love. Because believers’ hearts had been changed by experiencing the love of Jesus, they must reach out to all others who have been changed by that same love. Jesus commanded believers to love one another “as I have loved you.”
Thus, John knew that he was not writing a new commandment because this commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Jesus had made the commandment to love one another because love would be the disciples’ mark of distinction: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 nrsv).
2:8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. The new commandment to love departs from the old characteristics of the law. (The Greek word for “new,” kaine, designates what is new in quality, not in time.) Although the spirit of the law was love (and Christ asserted that love fulfilled the law), the emphasis in the law was on outward conformity to certain regulations. The Christian rule of love is a new command because believers’ ability to love one another is motivated by their love for Christ, who first loved them. Believers are able to love even their enemies because they realize that Christ loved them when they were his enemies. The love that believers are to have for each other will always be “a new command” because of how Christ infused it with a deeper and more far-reaching meaning. They must love others as Christ loved them.
The truth that the command is new is seen in him and you. The command to love first reached its truest and fullest expression in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He demonstrated true love by coming into the world and giving his life for all who believe. Thus the command should also be true in “you”—that is, in all who claim to follow Christ.
Although the true light is already shining and the darkness has not passed away completely, the darkness is passing slowly but surely. Thanks to the victory of Christ, the outcome of the conflict between light and darkness is a foregone conclusion. The conflict continues, however. But like the first rays of sun at dawn slowly but steadily piercing the darkness, so the “true light” experienced and shared by Christians is growing.
Not only had the commandment been given by him but it had also been exhibited in his example…. The new commandment of love finds concrete expression in the daily life of the believer in union with Christ. This love was first shown by Christ in his life on earth, and it is only because he first fulfilled the commandment of love that we can now fulfill it.
- E. Vine
2:9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. These next few verses highlight the absolute contrast drawn between light and darkness, love and hate, God and the world. The two contrasts cannot coexist: one cannot have light and complete darkness at the same time; one cannot love and also hate the same person; one cannot have God and try to hang on to the world. This verse teaches that a person who claims to be in the light (1:7) should then, by extension, also be filled with love (2:7–8). If that person makes this claim while hating a brother or sister, then the claim to be in the light is false. That person is still in the darkness. To hate one’s brother or sister is an indication that such a person never came into the light. Living in love is living in the light, since the gospel both illuminates people’s minds and warms their hearts to love (see 4:20).
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
The New Testament stresses the centrality of believers’ showing love to their Christian “brothers and sisters” Such love reaches beyond the community of believers and draws unbelievers in. Such love builds unity in the church. (Verses quoted from NRSV.)
In the Christian church, love is not only expressed by showing respect, it is also expressed through self-sacrifice and servanthood (John 15:13). In fact, it can be defined as “selfless giving,” reaching beyond friends to enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5:43–48). Love should be the unifying force and the identifying mark of the Christian community. Love is the key to walking in the light, because believers cannot grow spiritually while they hate others.
2:10 But anyone who loves other Christians is walking in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble. As the opposite to 2:9, verse 10 explains that actions reveal faith: anyone who loves other Christians is walking in the light. There is nothing in such a person to make him or her, or anyone else, stumble. People who claim to be Christians yet hate fellow believers are not grounded in the truth, as seen by their actions. They can easily be led astray.
2:11 Those who reject other Christians are wandering in spiritual darkness and don’t know where they are going, for the darkness has made them blind. In the context of this letter, “those who reject other Christians” probably refers to the false teachers and their followers who had left the fellowship of the church and thereby had rejected John and the other true Christians. They claimed to love God, but they hated other children of God. As such, John perceived that they were wandering in spiritual darkness. “Believers” who hate are in darkness and not light, in sin and not in fellowship with God. They “wander” in the darkness and don’t know where they are going. They have lost their spiritual perspective and sense of direction because the darkness has made them blind (see also 2 Peter 1:9). To hate, then, is to choose the darkness and to shut oneself off from the light. To hate is to separate oneself from the presence of God and from the fellowship of other believers.
True believers can be detected through their obedience to God, their knowledge of their own sinfulness and acceptance of forgiveness, and their genuine love for others.
Word Biblical Commentary
- It may seem that a new division begins with this v, especially as it is introduced by the address (ἀγαπητοί, “beloved” (counterbalancing τεκνία μου, in v 1), used here for the first time in 1 John. But in fact vv 7–11 are closely associated with vv 3–6. The connection is twofold: in terms of both content and literary structure.
It should be recalled that John is dealing, in the section 1:5–2:29, with the topic of “living in the light.” In view of his controlling thesis that “God is light” (1:5–7), he is setting out the conditions for living, as a Christian, in that light. These are the renunciation of sin (1:8–2:2) and obedience (2:3–11). For the special benefit of (docetic) heretics, the writer has already insisted that any appeal to the knowledge of God which discounts the importance of right conduct cannot be trusted (2:3–6; cf. 1:6–2:2). Moral obedience is the test of spiritual character.
Having said that, John develops his subject further. The summation of the moral law of God is to be found in the command to love; and this love is exemplified supremely in the life and ministry of Jesus, whom believers are called to imitate (so v 6). To this subject of the “law of Christ,” which is at one and the same time “old” and “new,” and its practical implications, the writer now turns. (So far as content is concerned, notice also the links which exist between vv 9–11 and 1:5–6, in their use of the imagery of light and darkness.)
In terms of literary structure, also, vv 7–11 belong to the preceding passage (vv 3–6). First, three versions of the Christian claim to know God, each with an attached condition, are cited in vv 3–11. Of these, one has still to be mentioned (vv 9–10; see vv 4–6 and the table above, 46). Second, the whole of this section (2:3–11) is concerned with the criteria for knowing God in Christ, and being in communion with him. In the central vv (6–8) the focus is on God as he has made himself known in Christ, the true light. But in the outer vv (3–5 and 9–11) John’s major preoccupation, despite some ambivalence in his thought, seems to be with the Christian knowledge of God the Father himself (cf. further Malatesta, Interiority, 119–20).
Ἀγαπητοί. John uses ἀγαπητοί (“beloved”) as a term of endearment elsewhere in his letters. Cf. 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7 and 11; for the singular see 3 John (1), 2, 5, 11. The fact that Paul also uses this expression (cf. Rom 12:19; 2 Cor 7:1) indicates that it was apparently a common form of homiletical address in early Christianity (so Bultmann, 26).
In this context the reference to John’s readers as “beloved” is entirely suitable. Before he mentions the commandment of love, he puts it into practice. There might also be an allusion in such a form of address to the fact that this community was gathered, in some sense, around the apostle John, who was traditionally described as the “beloved” disciple (e.g. John 13:23; without, however, using the adjective ἀγαπητός, “beloved,” itself). cf. also the designation of Jesus at his baptism as ὁ ἀγαπητός (“the beloved”; Mark 1:11 = Matt 3:17).
οὐκ ἐντολήν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν, “I am not writing to you about a new law.” The heretics, whom John has in mind throughout this section, were inclined to undervalue the importance of ethical behavior as an integral part of Christian living (see above, xxiii–iv, 43–45). With these people especially in mind, John writes (γράφω, “I am writing,” as in v 1) about the “law.”
The background to the discussion, here and in v 8, about the “new” and “old” law is clearly to be found in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” With this word of Jesus the members of the Johannine church would have been very familiar—specially if, as we have suggested, the community was divided over its interpretation of the person of Jesus, and John was seeking in his Gospel to reconcile the major parties by his balanced christology, and his ethical stress on love (see Smalley, John, 147–48). So now the writer emphasizes the importance of love: as a “social” test of Christian commitment, and as a summary expression, in practice, of the obligation to be obedient.
The nature of the “law” to which allusion is being made in these vv is not identified explicitly. But in view of the direct echo of John 13:34 (cf. 15:12), and the discussion about love as opposed to hatred in vv 9–11, the reference is obviously to the necessity for mutual love among believers (cf. 3:23; 2 John 5–6). In one sense this law of love was “not new” (οὐκ ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν, “I am not writing to you about a new law”). On the contrary (ἀλλά, “but”), it was “old” (v 7b, ἐντολὴν παλαιὰν ἥν εἴχετε, “an old law which has been yours”); and this was so for two complementary reasons. One is that the command to love others forms part of the Jewish Torah (cf. Lev 19:18), and is thus not exclusively Christian. The other way in which the love command was “old” relates to the fact that John’s readers, who already belonged to the second generation of Christian believers, would have been very familiar by now with their Lord’s injunctions about the need for brotherly love.
ἀλλʼ ἐντολὴν παλαιὰν ἤν εἴχετε ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, “but about an old (law), which has been yours from the beginning.” Indeed, the members of the Johannine church had been familiar “from the beginning” (ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς) with the law of love. It had been theirs from the start in two ways: absolutely, in the sense that all mankind recognizes the social need for love (cf. Rom 2:14; 13:8–10); and, relatively, in the sense that the love command formed part of the habitual exhortation given to all believers from the outset of their Christian lives (cf. Eph 5:2; James 2:8; 1 Pet 2:17), and also characterized the earliest stages of the church’s proclamation and existence (cf. Acts 2:44; see also Brooke, 33–35). For the absolute use of ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς in 1 John see 1:1; 2:13–14; 3:8. For the relative use of the phrase in the Fourth Gospel see John 15:27 (ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐστε; Jesus says: “you have been with me from the beginning,” i.e., “from the start of my ministry in public”). For parallels to the use of ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς in this v, see 2:24; 3:11; also 2 John 5–6.
It is possible that John introduced the singular ἐντολή (“law”), here and in v 8, because he regarded “love” as the summation of all God’s “commands,” or “orders” (τάς ἐντολάς, plural, as used in vv 3–4). Certainly the NT sees all the laws of God as recapitulated in the one command to love (Matt 22:37–39); and John is probably at this point echoing a traditional word of Jesus from the Gospel (see 13:34, using the singular, ἐντολὴν καινήν, “a new commandment”). But, as Bultmann (27) points out, the difference between the singular and the plural should not be exaggerated, as the one is included in the other. In any case, John uses these interchangeably (cf. 3:22–24; 2 John 4–6); and in the Gospel the singular, “commandment,” at John 13:34 is replaced by the plural (“commands”) at 14:15, 21 and 15:10.
ἡ ἐντολὴ ἡ παλαιά ἐστιν ὁ λόγος ὅν ἠκούσατε, “this old law is the message which you have heard.” The writer repeats in an emphatic form the subject of the “old law” of love which he is debating: it is “the law, the old law” (ἡ ἐντολὴ ἡ παλαιά). Cf. 1:2; 2:25 for this construction (ἡ ζωὴ ἡ αἰώνιος, “the life, the eternal life”). Love is the essence of the gospel associated with Jesus, and the primary obligation laid upon his disciples. This love command is summarily identified here as the traditional “message” (λόγος) which John’s readers had received as Christians (cf. the use of λόγος at 1:1). The aorist, ἠκούσατε (“you have heard”) indicates that the act of proclamation has been completed, “and is regarded as a whole irrespective of its duration” (Haas, Handbook, 49). cf. 2:18, 24; 3:11; 2 John 6.
Marshall (128–29) suggests that the writer’s stress in this v on the “old” nature of the command to love possibly arose from heretical resistance (within the community) to Johannine language about a “new” law (cf. 2 John 5). Since these readers may have thought that John was setting forth “novel rules which they could ignore,” his elucidation of the commandments (vv 3–4) begins by emphasizing the “oldness” of the love command. However, the Johannine community as a whole cannot have been unfamiliar with the description by Jesus of love as a “new command” (John 13:34). It seems more likely, therefore, that the writer, in a way which is decidedly Pauline (cf. Rom 13:8–10), is anticipating any reaction from his readers which would treat the new “law of love” (as a necessary expression of Christian obedience) in a legalistic way. “We do not receive eternal life by being obedient,” John thus says in effect; “rather, once we are Christians, we shall want to be obedient.”
The members of John’s church most inclined to adopt a legalistic attitude to the “law of Christ” would be those from a Jewish background who gave an exalted place to their own law, and whose christology was correspondingly “low” in character. Even if gnostics are primarily in view during this discussion about obedience as a condition for living in the light, therefore, the Ebionitically disposed among John’s readers are perhaps not being altogether ignored.
- This v is closely associated with v 7, the teaching of which is now expanded and completed. These two vv make up the heart of John’s message in this section about the need for love as the supreme way of demonstrating Christian obedience. (See also the comment on v 7.) Vv 7 and 8 are also connected in literary terms, in that the contrast between the “old” and “new” character of the law, which the writer is discussing here, is emphasized by the chiastic form of the two texts: “new (law), old, old, new” (so Malatesta, Interiority, 135).
πάλιν ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν, “on the other hand, I am writing to you about a new law.” The adverb πάλιν, as used here, has the adversative meaning of “on the other hand,” or “again” in the sense of “yet” (cf. John 16:28). “On the other hand,” says the writer, “I am writing to you about a new law.” In one respect the law of (mutual) love was “old” (see v 7); it was not an exclusively Christian command, and it had in any case been familiar to John’s readers for a long time. But in another way this law was “new.” The “newness” of the love command may be demonstrated in three ways. First, God has shown his love for man decisively in his self-giving through Jesus (4:9; cf. John 3:16). Second, Jesus by his own obedience fulfilled the law, the summation of which is love (cf. John 12:27; Rom 10:4, Christ is the τέλος νόμου, the “end of the law”; Heb 5:8–9). Third, Jesus thus makes it possible for the believer to inherit a new quality of (eternal) life and, through him, to fulfill the law of selfless, Christlike love (4:8–11; 5:11–12).
It was this “new commandment” (ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν “I am writing to you about a new law”) which Jesus supremely exemplified, and handed on to his disciples as an ethical pattern to follow (so John 13:34, ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν, “A new commandment I give you”; cf. 15:12; see also 1 John 3:23). Here was a “new” law indeed, but not a new legalism! (See further the comment on v 7b.)
ὅ ἐστιν ἀληθὲς ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν, “this is realized in him and also in you.” There are two possible ways of construing this clause. One is to take ὅ ἐστιν ἀληθές (“this is realized”) as the direct object of γράφω (“I am writing”). This would give the meaning: “I am writing to you, as a new law, about what is realized in him and also in you.” But it is much more likely that the object of γράφω should be regarded as ἐντολὴν καινὴν (“a new law”), as in our translation (“I am writing to you about a new law”); and the parallelism with v 7 (οὐκ ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν, “I am not writing to you about a new law”) seems to support this decisively. Accordingly the whole phrase, ὅ ἐστιν ἀληθὲς ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν (“this is realized in him and also in you”), can be taken as a parenthesis, in apposition to the previous clause (cf. Law, Tests, 376; Westcott, 53, rejects completely the first of these two constructions).
In any case, the allusion here is not just to the law itself, but more widely to the newness (the new quality) of the law of love, and its realization in Christ and in the believer. Such an exegesis is confirmed by the grammar at this point, since the relative clause is introduced by the neuter pronoun (“this”); whereas the noun ἐντολή (“law”) is feminine. Had the writer intended to refer exclusively to the law, rather than to its truth or “realization,” a relative pronoun in the feminine would presumably have been required.
The “new law,” about which John is writing, is fulfilled (or “realized”) in Christ and also in the Christian (ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν, which might be loosely translated: “through him, for you”). It is not love itself which is being characterized as “true” or “correct,” rather than “false,” either with reference to Christ or the Christian, since (the command to) love cannot be described in this way. Instead, the writer is saying that a distinctively new dimension of love was demonstrated in the life of Jesus, the Son of God, and thus made possible in the lives of his followers (cf. Dodd, 34–35; see John 13:34–35; and, for the use of ἀληθές to mean “realization,” Acts 12:9).
Moreover, love is a dynamic and not a static moral characteristic; hence the use of the present tense (ἐστιν ἀληθές, “is realized”) here and, indeed, throughout this v. The command to love is “new” in its association with Jesus, and also in its need to be constantly fulfilled in the experience of the Christian disciple.
O’Neill (Puzzle, 18) suggests that this whole parenthetical statement may have been originally a marginal gloss, explaining the meaning of “the true light” (v 8b), which was later incorporated into the text. (It is omitted by the miniscule 205.) There is, however, no respectable manuscript evidence to support such a theory; and, although this part of the v contains some exegetical difficulties, we need not doubt either the originality or the relevance of John’s comment at this point.
ὅτι ἡ σκοτία παράγεται … ἤδη φαίνει, “because the darkness is fading (and the real light) is already shining.” There is a further reason for accepting the clause just considered as an integral part of this v. It is closely associated, theologically, with the preceding discussion about the need for Christian obedience, supremely exemplified in the response of love, as a means of living in the light; and it is also structurally related to the material which follows. There John picks up the twofold mention of Christ and the Christian (v 8a), and treats it first with reference to Jesus (v 8b), and then in relation to his followers (vv 9–11).
This part of the v (“the darkness is fading …”) is introduced by the conjunction ὅτι (“because”); and the resulting sentence may be interpreted in three ways. (a) It may explain the situation in which the “new law” can be demonstrated as operative: “this is realized in him and also in you, because the darkness is fading.” (b) It may refer to the newness of the law mentioned in v 8a: “it is new in that the darkness is fading.” (c) It may be associated with the whole of the first part of this v: “the law is new, and realized in him and also in you; for … the real light is shining.”
The likely meaning, and the most natural, is the first; and this is followed in our translation. (The word ὅτι could also mean “that,” as in rsv mg: “a new law … that the darkness is fading.…” But such an interpretation is impossible in this context, since the latter part of v 8 is obviously not describing a “law.”)
ἡ σκοτία παράγεται. John first describes the setting in which God’s love has been uniquely revealed. “The darkness is fading”; or it is “lifting” (παράγεται). Bengel, Gnomon 5, 117, makes the point that παράγεται is passive, not active. Thus the literal meaning is something like “the darkness is caused to pass,” or changed, so that it is “absorbed.”
The coming of Jesus into the world is here represented as light coming into darkness. This motif both connects with the thought of God as light (1:5–7), and prepares the way for the concluding passage in this section (2:9–11). For the background to the image of “darkness versus light,” especially in Judaism, see the comment on 1:5. The contrast between good (as light) and evil (as darkness) is characteristic of John. In the Johannine literature generally it is a normative expression of the writer’s ethical dualism (cf. especially John 1:5; 12:35–36; see also Rev 22:5).
καὶ τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ἤδη φαίνει, “and the real light is already shining.” Jesus is the “real” (ἀληθινόν), genuine light of the world (cf. John 8:12). As such, he brings light into the darkness; since he has come from God who is light (cf. Schnackenburg, 112–13). John’s choice of the adjective ἀληθινός (“real”) here (cf. 5:20), rather than ἀληθής; (“realized,” as in v 8a), may be deliberate, since in his letters he appears to use the former attributively (as in this verse), and the latter as a predicate (cf. 3 John 12). So Kilpatrick, JTS ns 12 (1961) 272–73.
Johannine eschatology, especially in the Fourth Gospel, appears to be more “realized” than that of the synoptic Gospels (cf. Mark 13:29). For John “the real light is already (ἤδη) shining”; just as judgment has already begun, and salvation is an immediate possession (cf. John 3:16–21; 4). The Christian can “walk in the light” now, and share this light with others. However, we should not forget the diversity of John’s eschatological outlook. In the Fourth Gospel (cf. John 6:39, 44), as in 1 John (cf. 2:18), the present tense of salvation is balanced by the future. Similarly in the eschatological teaching of Jesus reported by the synoptic writers, the future is balanced by the present (cf. Mark 13:32–34; in the Pauline literature note 1 Thess 5:2–6 and 2 Thess 3:6–13). This age both anticipates and points toward the age to come. Meanwhile, it is possible either to remain in darkness, or to come to the light (cf. John 3:19–21). See further Smalley, John, 235–41; also Smalley, NTS 17 (1970/71) 283–84.
- In vv 3–8 John has set out the requirement of Christian obedience, especially obedience to the law of love, as a condition of “living in the light.” In v 8b he demonstrates how this law (which is both “old” and “new” in character) has been realized by Jesus: both in the life which he lived, and in the example which he set. Now he turns to a description of the way in which love may be realized (through Christ) in the experience and conduct of the Christian (vv 9–11).
The progress of the writer’s thought in this passage is carefully structured and developed. For v 9 is closely linked to v 8. It also forms the third and final version of the Christian claim to know God mentioned here by John (and perhaps based on assertions made by former members of his own church). The first two claims appear in vv 4 and 6 (see also the table on 46). In each case the validity of the claim is shown to be tested and established by a practical condition (cf. vv 5, 6b). Similarly, the condition attaching to this assertion (“anyone who claims to be in the light”) follows in the next verse (he must love his brother, v 10). Thus v 9 is firmly connected to v 8, on the one side, and to v 10 on the other.
ὁ λέγων ἐν τῷ φωτὶ εἶναι, “anyone who claims to be in the light.” Each of the statements made about knowing God, in vv 4, 6 and 9, is introduced by ὁ λέγων (“anyone who says/claims”). In the earlier vv the principle is enunciated first, followed by its illustration. Here, however, the general principle (vv 10–11) follows a specific example.
The three assertions about knowing God, abiding in him, and being in the light (as he himself is in the light, v 7), are parallel versions of a single claim to be in a right relationship with the Father through the Son. It is quite possible that the actual form of all three versions of the claim derives from the Fourth Gospel. In this case certain (perhaps docetically inclined) secessionists from John’s church may have been attributing to themselves a Christlike existence and conduct, using language employed by the fourth evangelist himself, without remembering the ethical implications of such an attribution. These implications are also present in the Gospel of John, and are associated with the teaching and example of the Johannine Christ (cf. John 13:34–35).
We have suggested that the claim in v 4 (to “know God”) derives from John 17:3; and that the parallel in v 6 (to “abide in him”) originates from John 15:4. (In the introduction, xxvi–xxx, we have also noted the close relationship between the teaching of 1 John and that of the farewell discourse in John 13–17; and it may be significant that the first two versions of the claim to know God, in this passage, can be associated with language present in those chapters of the Fourth Gospel.)
The claim to “be in the light” in the present v, may be linked to John 12:46 (Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness”). See also John 8:12; 9:5 (“I am the light of the world”); and, in addition, 1:4–9; 3:19–21; 5:35; 11:9–10; 12:35–36, 46. There is possibly the further contrast in John’s Gospel between Judas as the Satanic figure of “darkness” (cf. John 13:30), and the beloved disciple, who was close to Jesus in the upper room, as the representative of “light” (cf. 13:23). See further C. K. Barrett, The Gospel according to St John, 2nd ed.London: SPCK 1978, 446–49.
The reference to “being in the light” may have been introduced on account of claims which were being made among John’s gnostic readership about “knowing God” and therefore being “enlightened.” The author leaves us in no doubt concerning the true nature of “being in the light.” Already he has spoken of “living in the light” in terms of seeking to conform, both spiritually and morally, to the character and demands of God. Since God is light, we are to live (habitually) in the light (1:7). Moreover, if the description of Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 12:46; cf. 8:12) lies behind the quoted claim to be “in the light,” a further connection may be established between Jesus as light, and Jesus as love (vv 7–8) and life (1:1–2; cf. John 1:4). The believer who “exists (εἶναι, “to be,” constantly) in the light” shares the life of God in Christ; he must also meet the daily challenge, as well as the opportunity, to develop in Christian character and (loving) conduct (cf. v 10; also John 11:9–10, and the description of the believer as “the light of the world” in Matt 5:14; note further Eph 5:8; Phil 2:15).
καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ μισῶν, “and hates his brother.” The falsity of the assertion being made by heretically minded ex-members of the Johannine community is now clarified and exposed by the contrast which follows. To claim existence “in the light” of God is one matter; but to do so while practicing hatred, rather than love, is a contradiction. Indeed, disobeying the law of love makes a right relationship with God impossible; for abiding in him means living as Jesus lived (vv 4, 6). We know from Ignatius (Smyrn. 6.2) that some heretics in the early church, of a predominantly docetic inclination, lacked love (“for love they have no care”); and such people may have been in mind here.
It is obvious that an attitude of hatred (note the present participle μισῶν, literally, “hating”) can form no part of genuine Christian commitment. The verb “hates” may appear to be a strong one; but, as Westcott (55) says, “there is no twilight in this spiritual world.” Where sympathy does not exist, hatred inevitably follows (cf. Luke 11:23, “he who is not with me is against me”). The fact that John mentions the “brother” (in Christ) who is hated, rather than “people” in general (“fellow-men,” as such, are never described in the NT as “brothers”; note John 20:17), may suggest that his attitude is inward-looking. Should not Christian love (rather than hatred) be directed to all, and not only to those who believe? However, (a) John was primarily concerned with particular problems and relationships in his own community; (b) the reference to “brothers” need not exclude those outside the church (similarly with the “new law” of love, associated with Jesus, mentioned in v 8). We are to love others, indiscriminately and selflessly (as Jesus did), if we make any claim to live in the light of God. Christian behavior is an inevitable concomitant of Christian belief. See further the comments on 3:14–15.
ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ ἐστὶν ἕρτι, “is still in the darkness.” This clause indicates the outcome of claiming to live in the light while hating other people. Not only is the assertion untrue; the moral character and condition of the claimants is also shown to be the complete reverse of that which is believed. Those who hate the brotherhood are not living in the light of God, as they think, but in the darkness of evil. (For the contrasting motif of “light and darkness,” with its background, see the comment on v 8; cf. also 1:5.) And this is the case immediately (hence the emphatically placed ἔως ἄρτι “still”). Even now, while the light shines, they are in darkness (cf. Brooke, 39).
Note the way in which the terminology of “darkness” has shifted from its application in the Fourth Gospel to the “outsider” (cf. John 8:12). Now it can refer to heterodox members within John’s congregation, as well as to the secessionists (2:9–11; cf. Brown, Community, 134).
- The writer is describing the way in which love, as a mark of the obedient Christian who is seeking to “live in the light,” may be realized in the conduct of the believer. Following the literary pattern already established in vv 4–5 and 6 (where the first two versions of the claim “to know God” are set out), the practical condition attaching to any claim to be “in the light,” without which it becomes meaningless, is adduced. Anyone who announces that he is in the light must love his brother. By this means alone the validity of such an assertion may be tested.
In the statement of the first two versions of the (false) claim to “know God,” the contrasting principle of right Christian behavior is enunciated first, followed by a specific example of its outworking (vv 3, 5, both using ἐν τούτῳ, literally, “in this”). Here the example has already been cited (v 9), and the principle now follows. This is expressed first in positive (v 10) and then in negative (v 11) terms.
ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ φωτὶ μένει, “whoever loves his brother remains in the light.” Positively, the Christian is called to love his brother in Christ.
Note on “love”
The biblical concept of “love” (noun, ἀγάπη; verb, ἀγαπᾶν) is distinctive, inasfar as it is associated with a God who enters into a covenant relationship with his people and maintains it with undeserved “steadfast love” (cf. Deut 7:9). God’s essential activity is saving love (although divine love cannot be separated from divine judgment); and in NT terms we find this activity centered in the person and work of Jesus. God has loved us in Christ, and we are therefore called to love others in and through him (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 16). In John mutual love is clearly grounded in the love of God, and is a sure sign of faith (as in v 10; see also 3:10; 4:21; cf. John 13:34). See further W. Günther and H.-G. Link, NIDNTT 2 (1976) 542–47. The verb φιλεῖν (“to love,” or “to be a friend”) is not used in 1 John; but it is used in the Fourth Gospel, where (as with ἀγαπᾶν, “to love”) it can refer to the love of God, of Jesus or of the Christian. As a result we should not attempt (at least in Johannine terms) to draw sharp distinctions in meaning between the two verbs ἀγαπᾶν and φιλεῖν
In the first part of v 10 the writer provides a contrast to the statement in v 9. A right relationship with God, “remaining in the light (ἐν τῷ φωτί),” is naturally and properly expressed in active love for others, beginning with one’s fellow-Christians (see further the comment on v 9; against Bultmann, 28, who takes “brother” to mean any “neighbor”). Moreover, Christian conduct of this kind is expected to be consistent and habitual; hence the use of μένει (“remains”), rather than simply εἶναι (“to be”), as in v 9 (cf. the similar progression from v 5 to v 6). See Westcott, 56; also Bultmann, 26 n.9, who suggests that “abiding” in John and 1 John designates “faithfulness.” See further Malatesta, lnteriority, 155, who takes “remaining in the light” to mean being and abiding (a) in Christ’s teachings, (b) in Christ himself, and (c) in God the Father, who is light.
καὶ σκάνδαλον ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν, “and in it there is nothing to trip him up.” The writer is not content merely to balance the reference to “hating” one’s brother in v 9 with an allusion here to “loving” the brotherhood; although necessarily the contrast is “stark and absolute” (Stott, 94), since either we love, or we do not. Having made the point about love, and having strengthened it by the use of the verb μένειν (“to remain”; we are to love consistently), John characteristically moves the thought forward. “In it,” he says, “there is nothing to trip him up.”
There are two exegetical problems involved in this part of v 10. The first is the reference of ἐν αὐτῷ, where the pronoun could refer either to the believer (requiring the translation “in him”), or to the light in which he remains (“in it”). Admittedly the use of ἐν αὐτῷ in 2:4–5, 8, to mean “in him” (cf. 1:8, 10), supports the personal interpretation (so Haas, Handbook, 52; Marshall, 132 n.38). The meaning would then be: “there is nothing in the believer to cause stumbling.” But equally the sense could be: “there is nothing in the light (in it) which can cause us (habitually) to trip up, and thus fall into sin” (cf. Schnackenburg, 115). This fits the context, and is supported both by the content of v 11 and by the parallel thought expressed in John 11:9 (“a man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light”; cf. also v 10). Moreover, despite 3:9 and 5:18 John does not teach a doctrine of sinless perfection, such as might be favored by the translation “in him there is no cause for stumbling” (cf. 2:1b).
However, the other (related) problem concerns the precise interpretation of the sentence as a whole. Does it mean that if he remains in the light the believer himself cannot be tripped up, or (as the Gr. allows) that he cannot cause others to stumble? If once more we take this verse with v 11, which speaks of the person who hates his brother walking around blindly in the darkness, it seems likely that the former sense is to be preferred (so Brooke, 39–40; against Westcott, 56). cf. also John 11:9–10. At the same time, the use of the noun σκάνδαλον (“stumbling-block”) and the verb σκανδαλίζειν (“to cause to stumble, to trip up”) elsewhere in the NT favors an interpretation which regards the “stumbling-block” as being placed in the way of others. See e.g. 1 Pet 2:8 (πέτρα σκάνδαλου, “a rock that makes [men] fall”). In the Johannine literature the noun σκάνδαλον is found only at Rev 2:14 (βαλεῖν σκάνδαλον, “to put a stumbling-block [before the sons of Israel]”); for the verb see John 6:61; 16:1. Perhaps, in typically Johannine style, both meanings are involved in this passage: “whoever loves his brother remains in the light; and being in the light he can both see where he is going, and therefore avoid yielding constantly to temptation, and also (as a result) avoid causing others to fall.”
The word σκάνδαλον literally means a “trap”; but it is used figuratively in the NT to denote an enticement to apostasy or temptation to sin, and thus a cause of “stumbling” (see the references above; also 1 Cor 1:23, “Christ crucified, a σκάνδαλον to Jews”). BAG (760), however, translates σκάνδαλον in our present v as “stain”: “in him there is no stain”; and this is followed by Bultmann, 28, who translates “blemish” (cf. also G. Stählin, TDNT 7  356–57). But, once again, this construction seems to graze the edge of a doctrine of sinlessness which John does not really advocate.
- In the final v of this section the writer sets out in negative terms the principle which he has illustrated in v 9 (cf. the positive form of the principle in v 10). The claim to “be in the light,” or to have a right relationship with God, who is light (1:5), can only be substantiated in practice by a constant attitude of love. When this obtains it may be truly said that a Christian “remains in the light,” where there is nothing “to trip him up” (v 10). In contrast (note the use of δέ, “but,” at the outset), this v describes the state and outcome of existing in the darkness. (For the image of “light versus darkness,” and its ethical implications, see the comments on vv 8–9, and also on 1:5.)
ὁ δὲ μισῶν τὸν ἀδελφόν αὐτοῦ … περιπατεῖ. “But whoever hates his brother … walks around.” John repeats from v 9 the statement that “anyone who hates his brother is in darkness.” The present participle μισῶν (literally, “hating”) indicates a constant condition. He then elaborates the statement, and intensifies its meaning, by adding two further propositions. First, to hate one’s fellow-Christians (and in 1 John this is the primary connotation of ἀδελφός, “brother,” whatever further application may be assigned to that term; see the comment on v 9) is to “walk around” (περιπατεῖ) in the darkness, and not simply to “exist” (ἐστίν) in it. Lack of love implies lack of God. To hate one’s brother rather than loving him means inevitably, whatever may be asserted to the contrary, exclusion from the light and love of God. (The verb περιπατεῖν in this context contains the literal sense of “walking around,” rather than being used as a figure for “living,” as in 1:6–7 and 2:6.)
This is made clear by John’s second explanatory statement: hatred of the brotherhood is the equivalent of staggering around (blindly) in the darkness; this is because the hater has lost the way, and does not even know “where he is going.” In other words, unethical behavior not only contradicts the claim to be a Christian; it actually contributes to a spiritual downfall “Hatred perverts a man’s whole action, and prevents conscious progress toward any satisfactory goal” (Brooke, 40). Moreover, to “lose the way” spiritually and then determinedly to ignore all signposts pointing in the right direction (ὁ μισῶν, “whoever hates”), is to drift further and further away from the true lightú The clause, “not knowing where he is going” seems to be a direct quotation from John 12:35, καὶ ὁ περιπατῶν ἐν τῇ σκοτία οὐκ οἶδεν ποῦ ὑπάγει, “The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.” Cf. the contrast in v 36, “put your trust in the light while you have it”; and also in John 14:4–6 (Jesus is the true “way” to God, and his disciples can find that way through him).
ὅτι ἡ σκοτία ἐτύφλωσεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, “because the darkness has made his eyes blind.” Pursuing and extending the motif of “light and darkness” which he is using here, the author suggests that a perpetual existence in darkness rather than light causes spiritual blindness, and consequently makes it increasingly difficult to find the way back to God. “The darkness has made his eyes blind” (the aorist ἐτύφλωσεν, “has made blind,” may suggest a decisive moment for this event). Habitual hatred inevitably produces further hatred; so that the possibility of loving becomes more and more remote.
The background to the metaphor of “blindness” is to be found in Isa 6:10. This text, in typically Hebraic fashion, interprets the result of an action as its cause; and in these terms it describes God’s methods of dealing with those who are solely intent upon going their own way: “Make the heart of this people calloused” (God says to the prophet); “make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes.” See also John 12:40, where the Isaianic passage is quoted to explain the result of constant unbelief; the outcome of being in the darkness, rather than in the light. (See vv 35–37. But note that in John 12:39–40 the terminology of “blindness” is applied to “the Jews,” and here to the secessionists; cf. Brown, Community, 134.) So, in this passage, it is not that God cuts himself off from us; but that by a lack of love we progressively isolate ourselves from the light of God’s nature and presence.
Bultmann (29) needlessly speculates that the conclusion of v 11 is a “homiletical expansion” of the author’s source, intended to emphasize “the horror of walking in darkness”.
Throughout the passage 2:3–11 the writer has been dealing with the tests for judging the genuineness of any claim to know God. He sets out his consideration of this issue against a background of three actual versions of this claim, apparently made by heretical (especially docetically oriented?) ex-members of his own church: to know God, to abide in him, and to be in the light. Such assertions may legitimately be made by any Christian; but in this case they are shown to be false, because they are unsupported by an ethical conduct which is morally obedient and (as the supreme expression of obedience) loving. At the outset of this section John swiftly counters the false claim to know God made by one who fails to obey his orders (v 4); at the end he ironically points out that, so far from being in a right relationship with God, such a person does not even know where he is going, being spiritually blind (v 11).
This passage as a whole, which deals with the second condition for living in the light (“be obedient”), balances theologically the section 1:8–2:2, where the first condition is described (“renounce sin”). The genuineness of Christian experience is tested and established negatively by the absence of sin, and positively by the presence of (obedient) love. Once again, John is being intensely practical in his exhortation. Faith, or the claim to be faithful, is not enough by itself; such a claim must be worked out in ethical practice. Faith and love, in fact, belong together (cf. Gal 5:6). As we give ourselves in obedience to God through Christ we can “remain in the light” (vv 9–10). We can dwell in that light which is God himself, incarnated in his Son and mediated by his commands; and only thus can we abide in him, and be in a relationship of constant communion with him.
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
(2) Learn the New Command and Love Others (2:7–11)
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
2:7–8 These verses, with the initial agapētoi, “Dear Friends” (lit., “beloved”) appears to begin a new thought. Still, v. 7 continues and amplifies the thought that was begun in v. 6. There is a certain degree of semantic overlap to be sure with the continued discussion of God’s commands. This assertion is based on both the content of the verses and the literary structure of the passage as a whole. The focus of 2:6–8 is on knowing God as he has been revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ. Here John draws on the pattern of the life and ministry of Jesus and the content of the gospel message, which they had previously heard, to address the attacks his adversaries had made against the ethical standard the author taught his dear friends.
The command John advocates is not some new, novel ethical ideal divorced from the heritage of the believing community. John’s opponents had minimized the importance of ethical behavior. John uses these verses to illustrate that this command is not one more restriction that has been placed on those who have believed, and he shows that these commands are not contradictory to the apostolic message. This message is, in fact, embedded in the apostolic witness they had received from the beginning of their Christian experience. It is the good news that contains both the record of God’s saving work in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the instruction about how those who have received God’s grace are to live in this fallen world. These ethical commands had always been a part of the Christian community. The commandment cited in 2:7 is the summation of all of the precepts previously mentioned. It is the command of love. Smalley concludes: “The summation of the moral law of God is to be found in the command to love; and this love is exemplified supremely in the life and ministry of Jesus, whom believers are called to imitate (v. 6).” This message can also be characterized as old or from the beginning because it has roots in the law (cf. Lev 19:18; also Rom 13:8–10) and because the love command was an integral part of the exhortation given to all believers at the start of the Christian life (Eph 5:2; Jas 2:8; 1 Pet 2:17).
In what seems on the surface like a contradictory statement, John goes on to assert in v. 8 that this command is also new. How? The law of love is new in the sense that it is seen in Jesus and established by him through his death and resurrection. This command is also new in that Jesus by his obedience fulfilled the whole of the law and gave it “a depth of meaning that it had never known before” (John 13:34b, 35). Finally, this command is new because for those who believe it makes possible a new and eternal life in which they are motivated by the grace of God to fulfill the law of self-sacrificing, Christlike love.204
The final part of the verse provides the exegetical contextual basis for the claim because “its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” In this explanation John contrasts the darkness, where there is confusion and no understanding of God’s revelation, and the light, where individuals can have fellowship with God and understand his revelation. John declares that with this new commandment a new age has been established in which the darkness will eventually be banished from the earth. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (John 8:12), has come to destroy the darkness of sin and death and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, which is characterized by light and love. In his earthly ministry Jesus initiated this kingdom through his submission and perfect obedience to the will of the Father. In his death and resurrection the power of sin and death was broken and the kingdom was inaugurated. The transformed lives of his followers provide infallible evidence for this victory. The battle, however, is not over. Despite the fact that the victory over darkness has been secured, the complete eradication of evil and the end of the old age will not occur until the consummation of all things. The final triumph is in the process of being worked out. This passage describes in gripping, symbolic language the inaugurated eschatology present throughout the New Testament. The eschaton is in one sense already realized, but not yet in its fullness.
2:9 In v. 9 the final claim related to an individual’s knowledge of God is put forth. Again it is a claim that could rightly be made by a believer if the test associated with the claim and elucidated in 2:10–11 is carried out. This final claim picks up the theme of light that John uses in the previous verses to describe the inauguration and consummation of the Kingdom of God. It also draws from the terminology of chap. 1, where God is described as light (1:5) and the believers are encouraged to walk in the light as God is in the light (1:7). This claim is something of a climax in that John has moved from knowing God to abiding in him and now to living in the light. The believer who walks in the light shares a special intimacy with God through the work of Jesus Christ. As previously seen, he shares the very life (eternal) of God. To walk in the light is to live out the life of God. He will give evidence of his abiding union in the light as he meets the challenge and opportunity to develop Christian character and conduct that is in step with confession and the command of love.
Verses 9–11 must be read against the backdrop of the secessionists and the contradiction of their confession and behavior. The term adelphos, translated “brother,” could mean any neighbor, in line with the command of Lev 19:18. The LXX use of the term makes this possible. From the context it may be better to conclude that John is here referring only to those who have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.208 Vaughan’s argument, however, seems more plausible. What we have here are persons with visible, though temporary, connection with the church. However, their behavior makes it evident they have never left the darkness. Those they call(ed) brothers they hate (pre. tense). The conclusion is clear: they are lost. They have never been regenerated. Those who hate their brother differ from the children of God in that they are still in the darkness and may even love being in that state (John 3:19). The gravity of this situation is that the one who claims to be in the light but does not love his brother is deceived and in reality is a member of the kingdom of darkness.
There are no shades of gray when it comes to John’s discussion of an individual’s relationship with God. One is either in the light or in darkness. One either loves his brother or hates him. When someone is in the light, he is enabled to love. The one who is in darkness has no capacity to love, for, as we will see, his eyes have been blinded by the darkness.
2:10 In 2:10–11 John presents two axioms that explain the example that is given in v. 9. The first is a positive description of the consistent love of the brother that takes place in the light. The second describes the negative state of confusion and blindness that results from living in darkness. If one loves his brothers, he abides in the light, and it is evidence that he knows God and has fellowship with Jesus Christ. The unwavering nature of this love is emphasized. There is a consistency that is part and parcel of their love.
The second portion of this verse poses two exegetical difficulties for the interpreter. First, does the pronoun in the phrase en auto refer to the believer (NIV) or to the light where that believer remains (RSV)? Second, does this part of the verse mean that in the light the believer cannot be tripped up or that he cannot cause others or himself to stumble?
Those who agree with the NIV argue that the pronoun (auto) should be taken as a masculine pronoun referring to the one who loves his brothers. In favor of this interpretation is the fact that John has a predilection toward the personal use of this construction in 2:4–5, 8, resulting in the idea that there is nothing in the believer to cause stumbling. One might cite 1:8, “The truth is not in us”; 1:10, “His word is not in us”; and 2:4, “No truth in such a person” to support this position. Verse 11, however, is set in contrast to v. 10. It does not clarify the ambiguity because the first part of the verse relates that the one who hates his brother is in darkness, favoring an “in it” translation; but the final section of the verse describes the blinding action of the darkness and thereby favors an “in him” translation.
The second option is that the pronoun is neuter and refers to the light just mentioned in the verse, resulting in the idea that within the sphere of light there is nothing to cause stumbling. This view is supported first by the fact that the nearest possible antecedent for the pronoun is the light (to photi). Second, there seems to be a parallel in John 11:9–10 that states, “A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” Third, as mentioned above, the description of the one who hates his brother being in the darkness (v. 11a) supports making light the antecedent. The best understanding of the passage makes light the antecedent of the pronoun, resulting in the following translation: “In it [light] there is no stumbling.”
This interpretation raises another question: does stumbling (skandalon) take place in the life of the believer, or does the believer cause others to stumble into the darkness? In its normal New Testament usage skandalon is used to describe actions that result in the stumbling of others. This is the meaning intended when John uses the verb skandalizō (John 6:61; 16:1; Rev 2:14). It is possible that a man might cause others to stumble due to a lack of love, but when this verse is taken with 2:11, it would be best to interpret the clause as referring to the person himself who is stumbling. Brown notes that “it is simpler to think that love for one’s brothers will prevent the person from leaving the Community or will save him from sins against the koinōnia, the spirit of communion that binds one to God.” A believer lives in the light, the very life of God, and gives evidence of his position by loving his fellow believers. This life, lived in this manner, provides no occasion for offense. Christians can walk without stumbling because they see where they are going and the result is they do not cause others to fall.216
2:11 John concludes his argument in 2:11 by giving the negative axiom that contrasts v. 10 and explains v. 9. Those who hate their brothers live in a state of darkness where there is not just an absence of love, but an absence of God. In this darkness the individual is exiled from fellowship with the Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and the believing community. Far from knowing God, those who hate their brothers walk around confused and lost, not knowing where they are going. “In other words, unethical behavior not only contradicts the claim to be a Christian; it actually contributes to a spiritual downfall.”218
Spiritual darkness is not a passive reality. It goes on the offensive. Darkness attacks those living in it so that they become increasingly trapped in this realm of confusion and blindness. In a real sense what we do is what we become. How we live is who we are. The longer one remains in this realm of darkness, the more difficult it becomes to see the sin that is in one’s life, and the less likely one is to see his need to confess his sins so that fellowship with God can be restored. Habitual hatred leads to more hatred, and the possibility of loving becomes less and less likely.
- Know Your Spiritual Status (2:12–14)
12 I write to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
13 I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you have known the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
This section appears, at first glance, to be a self-contained unit that has little connection to the arguments that precede and follow it. This has caused some commentators to develop redactional histories for the text, proposing that these verses come from different sources and address different issues. A closer examination of the text, however, reveals that there is a connection between 2:12–14 and the context in both directions and that there is a progression in the ideas that are discussed. The connection, however, is semantic rather than structural. That many see a digression here is not without warrant given the change of style. Having just completed two triadic discussions of the boasts and claims of the secessionists (1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9), John in 2:12–14 wants to encourage, as Culpepper notes, “the community of the faithful by assuring them that the benefits of the new covenant are theirs and warns them against the dangers that remain.” He shows that what is true of the members of the community is not true of the secessionists. In this he continues to develop a previous theme. The description of the believers in 2:12–14 serves further as an introduction to the exhortation to resist the temptation of living with a mind set on the transitory things of the world system that are opposed to God.
First John 2:12–14 has a highly structured repetitive format that is almost poetic. This is evident both in the Greek and English texts with its repetition and rhythmic flow. John expresses great confidence in his readers as he reminds them of their vital relationship with God. Then 2:15–17 acts as a bridge to the verses that follow in its direct exhortation to the community.
Four basic issues face the interpreter of this enigmatic text: (1) What is the reason for the tense change that occurs between v. 13 and v. 14 (the NIV unfortunately does not reflect the grammar at this point)? (2) How many groups of people are included in those addressed in these verses (one, three, or two)? (3) How should one translate hoti in these verses? The NIV translates it as “because” all six times it appears. (4) Why does John employ so much repetition in 2:12–14?
Two basic presuppositions undergird the various solutions put forth to explain the tense change from the present in vv. 12 and 13 to the aorist in v. 14. The first is that the author in his use of the present tense refers to what is written in 1 John, while the aorist verbs refer to what he has written in another letter or in the Gospel. The second school of thought asserts that the aorist and the present tense verbs both refer to what is being written in this epistle. Some in this latter group argue that the aorist verbs refer to what John has already written, and the present tense verbs refer to what he is now writing. Still another group within this school of thought argues that both the present and the aorist tenses refer to the whole of 1 John and that the tense change is due more to stylistic variation that adds slightly more emphasis to the assertions being made by the author. D. F. Watson sets forth a similar position based on rhetorical grounds. He argues that the use of the past tense was more vivid and that it is more striking to claim that all is finished than to intimate that it is about to be completed.224 While the argument in favor of a stylistic use of an epistolary aorist is adequate to answer the question, it seems that the change of tense has the effect of moving the argument forward. When John uses graphō (I write) in the epistle, he tends to introduce a statement, but when he uses the aorist tense egrapsa (I wrote), it is used in the context of his discussion about statements (cf. 5:13). As a result, it is quite possible, if not probable, that John “uses the γράφω [graphō] clauses in vv 12–13 to lead into a threefold series of summary statements about orthodox belief, and the ἔγραψα [egrapsa] clauses in v 14 to preface the start of his further discussion of those statements, and to anticipate the body of teaching which is yet to come (vv 15–17 and 18 onward).” This interpretation of the text also makes sense of the repetition of vv. 12–13 (with some variation) in v. 14 because of the manner in which the argument is pushed forward to the exhortation that follows.
Three basic positions have been put forward to explain the meaning of the categories of children, fathers, and young men. The three-group position argues that John is addressing three groups of people based on physical age or spiritual maturity. The advocates of the one-group position believe that John is using these terms rhetorically to describe the whole body of believers, due largely to the overlap of blessings that takes place in these verses. The two-group position proposes that teknia and paidia are inclusive terms that John uses to describe those who have been loyal to the things that he has taught them. The terms pateres (fathers) and neaniskoi (young men) refer to the older and younger either in terms of age or spiritual maturity. Some think that the terms “fathers” and “young men” are indicative of leadership offices in the church, but this seems to read more into the text than it will support. The two-group position has the stronger support when John’s inclusive use of teknia and paidia is considered (cf. 2:1, 28), but it is best to use caution when attempting to make hard and fast distinctions about the meaning of these terms. Smalley notes:
Knowing the Johannine mentality as we do, it is quite possible that our author is at this point being deliberately ambivalent. Almost certainly he is referring to his whole church when he calls his readers “children,” but within that group he is in one sense recollecting and addressing the young and old in physical age; while in another sense he is referring to the spiritual privileges of Christian youth and maturity that should belong to all believers.… In either case he is pointing out the riches of the orthodox faith belonging to the “fathers” and “young men” of his church, in stark contrast to the heresies which were being propagated by the other two groups within the Johannine community: those with too high a view of the nature of Jesus, and those with an inadequate understanding of his fully divine person.
A third exegetical issue focuses on whether one should translate hoti (NIV “because”) with a causal or declarative meaning. The causal understanding of the term implies that the readers of the epistle have the spiritual ability to respond to the challenge to live in the light and not fall prey to the charms of the world. Their spiritual position and maturity is the basis for John’s encouragement and confidence. The NIV reflects this casual understanding. A second option is to understand hoti in a declarative sense. John has written these things to assure them of their place in the kingdom. These words are meant to assure them, in the face of a persuasive opposition, that they are the ones who have been forgiven, know the Christ, and have overcome the evil one. The fact that graphō is always followed by a direct object supports the declarative translation. But it is at this point that a helpful word can be given, using this particular issue as example, to guide those who wish to avoid those “exegetical fallacies.” The difference of these translations in the mind of the first-century reader might not have even been noticed. So fine a distinction would scarcely have been considered. Care should be taken and caution applied so that we do not see in a text what is really not there.
The fourth issue to consider is the use of repetition. The most likely reason is for emphasis. As Sherman and Tuggy note, “John is here giving strong encouragement before presenting the exhortations to overcome temptations. By an emphatic reminder of who they are and what God has done for them, he provides the trust basis for exhorting them to live in the victory already won. It is also the case that the use of repetition provides clear marker boundaries and sets these verses off as a distinct unit. Of course, the poetic and symmetrical nature of the verses would all but demand some degree of repetition.
ons on 1 John a href=”#_ftnref1″ name=”_ftn1″> Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: An expositional commentary (51–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (1 Jn 2:7–11). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (1965–1966). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
 Calvin, J. (2002). Calvin’s Commentaries (1 Jn 2:3–7). Galaxie Software.
 Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1998). 1, 2 & 3 John. Life Application Bible Commentary (33–38). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
 Smalley, S. S. (1989). Vol. 51: 1, 2, 3 John. Word Biblical Commentary (53–64). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Akin, D. L. (2001). Vol. 38: 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary (95–104). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Leave a Comment