1 John 1:5 Commentary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
5 7. Fellowship with God and with the Brethren
5. This then is the message which we have heard of Him ] Better, And the message which we have heard from Him is this. ‘This’ is the predicate, as so often in S. John: ‘But the judgment is this’ (Joh 3:19); ‘The commandment is this’ (Joh 15:12); ‘The eternal life is this’ (Joh 17:3): comp. 1Jn 3:11 ; 1Jn 3:23; 1Jn 5:3 ; 1Jn 5:11; 1Jn 5:14 ; 2Jn 1:6. In all these cases ‘is this’ means ‘This is what it consists in, This is the sum and substance of it’. The conjunction does not introduce an inference: here, as in the Gospel, the main portion of the writing is joined on to the Introduction by a simple ‘and’. Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish all have ‘and’: ‘then’ comes from Geneva, apparently under the influence of Beza’s igitur. The connexion of thought seems to be this. S. John is writing that we may have fellowship with God ( 1Jn 1:3): and in order to have this we must know 1. what God is ( 1Jn 1:5), and 2. what we consequently are bound to be (6 10). The word for ‘message’ ( ἀγγελία ) occurs only in this Epistle (1Jn 3:11) in N.T., but is more frequent in LXX.
Once more we have a striking parallel between Gospel and Epistle: the Gospel opens with a sentence very similar in form; ‘And the witness of John is this’ (Joh 1:19). All these similarities strengthen the belief that the two were written about the same time, and were intended to accompany one another.
from Him ] From Christ. The pronoun used ( αὐτός ) is not the one ( ἐκεῖνος ) commonly used for Christ in this Epistle. But here the context decides: ‘Him’ refers back to ‘His Son Jesus Christ’ ( 1Jn 1:3), the subject of the opening verses (1 3). Moreover, it was from Christ, and not immediately from the Father, that the Apostles received their message.
and declare unto you ] Better, and announce unto you: not precisely the same verb as was rendered ‘declare’ in 1Jn 1:2-3. Both are compounds of the same verb; but while the former has merely the notion of proclaiming and making known, this has the notion of proclaiming again what has been received elsewhere. The one is annuntiare, the other renuntiare. S. John hands on the message received from Christ: it is no invention of his own. It is a message, and not a discovery. So also the Spirit makes known or reveals to us truths which proceed from the Father (Joh 16:13-15): comp. Joh 4:25; 2Co 7:7 ; 1Pe 1:12, where the same verb is used in all cases.
God is light ] This is the theme of the first main division of the Epistle, as ‘God is Love’ of the second: so that this verse stands in the same relation to the first great division as 1Jn 1:1-4 to the whole Epistle. No one tells us so much about the Nature of God as S. John: other writers tell us what God does, and what attributes He possesses; S. John tells us what He is. There are three statements in the Bible which stand alone as revelations of the Nature of God, and they are all in the writings of S. John: ‘God is spirit’ (Joh 4:24); ‘God is light’, and ‘God is love’ (1Jn 4:8). In all these momentous statements the predicate has no article, either definite or indefinite. We are not told that God is the Spirit, or the Light, or the Love: nor (in all probability) that He is a Spirit, or a light. But ‘God is spirit, is light, is love’: spirit, light, love are His very Nature. They are not mere attributes, like mercy and justice: they are Himself. They are probably the nearest approach to a definition of God that the human mind could frame or comprehend: and in the history of thought and religion they are unique. The more we consider them, the more they satisfy us. The simplest intellect can understand their meaning; the subtlest cannot exhaust it. No philosophy, no religion, not even the Jewish, had risen to the truth that God is light. ‘The Lord shall be to thee an everlasting light’ (Isa 60:19-20) is far short of it. But S. John knows it: and lest the great message which he conveys to us in his Gospel, ‘God is spirit’, should seem somewhat bare and empty in its indefiniteness, he adds this other message in his Epistle, ‘God is light, God is love’. No figure borrowed from the material world could give the idea of perfection so clearly and fully as light. It suggests ubiquity, brightness, happiness, intelligence, truth, purity, holiness. It suggests excellence without limit and without taint; an excellence whose nature it is to communicate itself and to pervade everything from which it is not of set purpose shut out. ‘Let there be light’ was the first fiat of the Creator; and on it all the rest depends. Light is the condition of beauty, and life, and growth, and activity: and this is as true in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres as in the material universe.
Of the many beautiful and true ideas which the utterance ‘God is light’ suggests to us, two are specially prominent in this Epistle; intelligence and holiness. The Christian, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and in communion with God in Christ, possesses (1) knowledge, (2) righteousness. (1) ‘Ye know Him which is from the beginning’ (1Jn 2:13-14); ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it’ (1Jn 2:21); ‘Ye need not that anyone teach you’ (1Jn 2:27); &c. &c. (2) ‘Every one that hath this hope on him purifieth himself, even as He is pure’ (1Jn 3:3); ‘Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God’; &c. &c.
and in Him is no darkness at all ] Or, retaining the telling order of the Greek, and darkness in Him there is none at all. This antithetic parallelism is characteristic of S. John’s style. He frequently emphasizes a statement by following it up with a denial of its opposite. Thus, in the next verse, ‘We lie, and do not the truth’. Comp. ‘We lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us’ ( 1Jn 1:8); Abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him’ (1Jn 2:10); ‘Is true, and is no lie’ (1Jn 2:27): comp. 1Jn 2:4. So also in the Gospel: see on Joh 1:3. The denial here is very strong, the negative being doubled in the Greek; ‘none whatever, none at all ’.
Another parallel between the Gospel and the Epistle must here be pointed out. In the Prologue to the former we have these ideas in succession; the Word, life, light, darkness. The same four follow in the same order here; ‘the Word of life’, ‘the life was manifested’, ‘God is light, and darkness in Him there is none’. Must we not suppose that the sequence of thought here has been influenced by the sequence in the corresponding portion of the Gospel?
The figurative use of ‘darkness’ for moral darkness, i.e. error and sin, is very frequent in S. John (1Jn 2:8-9; 1Jn 2:11; see on Joh 1:5; Joh 8:12). These passages shew that the meaning of this verse cannot be, ‘God has now been revealed, and no part of His Nature remains unknown’; which, moreover, could never be stated of Him who is incomprehensible. S. John is laying the foundation of Christian Ethics, of which the very first principle is that there is a God who intellectually, morally, and spiritually is light.
“In speaking of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ it is probable that S. John had before him the Zoroastrian speculations on the two opposing spiritual powers which influenced Christian thought at a very early date” (Westcott).
This section is largely directed against the Gnostic doctrine that to the man of enlightenment all conduct is morally indifferent. Against every form of this doctrine, which sapped the very foundations of Christian Ethics, the Apostle never wearies of inveighing. So far from its being true that all conduct is alike to the enlightened man, it is the character of his conduct that will shew whether he is enlightened or not. If he is walking in the light his condition and conduct will exhibit these things; 1. Fellowship with God and with the Brethren (5 7); 2. Consciousness and Confession of Sin (8 10); 3. Obedience to God by Imitation of Christ (1Jn 2:1-6); 4. Love of the Brethren (1Jn 2:7-11).
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".