From:  Over 50 Interpreters Explain 1 to 3 John                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018



List of All Sources Quoted At End of File






CHAPTER 4:1-21




4:1                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but put the spirits to the test to see whether they are from God; for many false teachers have gone out into the world.

WEB:              Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Young’s:         Beloved, every spirit believe not, but prove the spirits, if of God they are, because many false prophets have gone forth to the world;

Conte (RC):    Most beloved, do not be willing to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are of God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world.


4:1                   Beloved.  As in 1 John 2:28 and 3:18, the apostle again breaks out with a personal appeal into an earnest exhortation suggested by the statement just made.  [24]

                        A man must either take somebody for his infallible guide, or he must try and judge for himself.  How much soever some churches or particular Christians have condemned the liberty of private judgment, the Christian religion encourages the most generous and extensive liberty, or freedom of inquiry: and all Christians ought to assert that liberty, and make the proper improvement of it; neither lightly receiving, nor rejecting what is proposed to them.  [36]

believe not every spirit.  The “spirits” and the “false prophets” are one.  They are “antichrists” in chapter 2; but the predominant reference to the Holy Ghost in this section gives occasion for the use of these two terms:  “spirits” as professing to be His organs, and “false prophets” as professing to be moved by Him.   [34]

The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because anyone claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent.  Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded.  [18]

Or:  “The spirits” are principles and tendencies in religion:  these need to be tested, for earnestness and fervor are no guarantee of truth. And to test these principles is the duty of the individual Christian as well as of the Church in its official capacity.  Just as every Athenian was subjected to an examination δοκιμασία as to his origin and character before he could hold office, so the spirit of every religious teacher must be examined before his teaching can be accepted.  [24]

but try the spirits.  By the rule which follows.  We are to try all spirits by the written word:  To the law and to the testimony!  If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God.  [2]

The word “spirits” becomes a designation of the man himself inspired by the spirit.  So the demoniac of Gadara becomes identified with the demon possessing him.  [33]

There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of “discerning spirits” (see 1 Corinthians 12:10), but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives.  [18]

Meaning of “try:  There are two words in N.T. meaning “to try, test, prove;” the one which we have here (δοκιμάζειν), and the one which is used where the Jews try or tempt Christ (Mark 8:11; 10:2, &c.), and of the temptations of Satan (Matthew 4:1, 3, &c.).  The former occurs about 20, the latter about 40 times in N.T.  Neither are common in John’s writings:  he nowhere else uses the word which we have here, and the other only 4 times (John 6:6; Revelation 2:2, 10; 3:10).  The difference between the two words (which are found together 2 Corinthians 13:5) is on the whole this, that the one here used commonly implies a good, if not a friendly object; to prove or test in the hope that what is tried will stand the test: whereas the other often implies a sinister object; to try in the hope that what is tried will be found wanting.  The metaphor here is from testing metals.  [23]

whether they are of God.  By the rule which God hath given.  We are to try all spirits by the written word:  To the law and to the testimony!  If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God.  [35]

because many false prophets.  There were many false teachers in that age as well as in ours, and some claimed to be inspired.  [3]

The caution is against no imaginary or merely possible danger; it already exists. [23]

Both the old Church [= Judaism], Deuteronomy 13:1, and the new, Acts 20:30, were ever pestered with them.  [25]

Broader application of the concept:  The words “prophets” and “spirits” are here used as synonyms, both of them signifying preachers.  Prophets are preachers.  Good prophets are preachers through whom the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, teaches and preaches, whether it be by direct inspiration, as in the Old Testament, or whether it be by the teaching of the pure Gospel, as in the case of all true ministers today.  In that sense they are spirits.  [15]   

Relationship of “false prophets” and “antichrists:  The many false prophets are the same as the many antichrists of 2:18.  A prophet is one who speaks for another.  The false prophet professes to speak for God and under His inspiration, as the antichrist falsely claims to be on the side of Christ and to represent His teaching.  [52] 

are gone out into the world.  i.e., out of the community of Christ, which they have left or been compelled to leave (2:19).  [50] The end result was the same whether they left/were expelled or were successfully pretending to be quite “respectable main-line Christians.”  The claim did not reflect the reality.  [rw] 

The announcement contains a useful admonition; for if Satan had then already seduced many, who under the name of Christ scattered [= spread?] their impostures, similar instances at this day ought not to terrify us.  For it is the case perpetually with the Gospel, that Satan attempts to pollute and corrupt its purity by variety of errors.  This our age has brought forth some horrible and monstrous sects; and for this reason many stand amazed; and not knowing where to turn, they cast aside every care for religion; for they find no more summary way for extricating themselves from the danger of errors.  They thus, indeed, act most foolishly; for by shunning the light of truth, they cast themselves into the darkness of errors.  [27]   



4:2                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     The test by which you may recognize the Spirit of God is that every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come as man is from God,

WEB:              By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,     

Young’s:         in this know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that doth confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come, of God it is,

Conte (RC):    The Spirit of God may be known in this way. Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has arrived in the flesh is of God;                 


4:2                   Hereby.  Greek, “By this;” that is, by the test which is immediately specified.  [18]

                                                know ye the Spirit of God.  You may discern who are actuated by the Spirit of God.  [18]

Every spirit.  Everyone professing to be under the influence of the Spirit of God.  The apostle uses the word “spirit” here with reference to the person who made the claim, on the supposition that everyone professing to be a religious teacher was animated by some spirit or foreign influence, good or bad.  If the Spirit of God influenced them, they would confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh; if some other spirit, the spirit of error and deceit, they would deny this.  [18]

that confesseth.  That is, that makes a proper acknowledgment of this; that inculcates this doctrine, and that gives it a due place and prominence in his instructions.  It cannot be supposed that a mere statement of this in words would show that they were of God in the sense that they were true Christians; but the sense is, that if this constituted one of the doctrines which they held and taught, it would show that they were advocates of truth, and not apostles of error.  If they did not do this, 1 John 4:3, it would be decisive in regard to their character and claims.  [18] 

Not merely once, but right on.  The confession is something uttered before men.  Unexpressed confession is a contradiction of terms, and a thing impossible.  As Lange suggests, the very word means the oral confession of a truth or reality.  Such confession is one of the fixed laws of the new life.  There is no heavenly promise for him who is unwilling to confess Christ before men.  The Bible does not own such an one as having salvation (Romans 10:9-10).  [52] 

that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.  He Himself, therefore, is something more than flesh.  The heresies, which deny the truth of the flesh of Jesus Christ, presuppose, and by this very thing confirm, His Deity, since they were not able to reconcile with this His flesh, as worthy of it.  [11]

Thus the clause, hath come in the flesh, implies that He might have come in another manner than in the flesh, namely, in the form of God, as mentioned Philippians 2:6-7.  It implies that He existed before He came in the flesh, and chose to come in that manner, rather than in any other; consequently that He is more than a mere man.  [35]

is of God.  Is true; teaches the truth.  [12]

This does not necessarily mean that everyone who confessed this was personally a true Christian, for it is clear that a doctrine might be acknowledged to be true, and yet that the heart might not be changed; nor does it mean that the acknowledgment of this truth was all which it was essential to be believed in order that one might be recognized as a Christian; but it means that it was essential that this truth should be admitted by everyone who truly came from God.  [18]  


In depth:  The issue was not whether Jesus was the Christ but whether the Divine had taken human form [18].  Benson and some others propose to render this, “That Jesus, who came in the flesh, is the Christ.” But this is liable to serious objections.

(1)  It is not the obvious interpretation.

(2)  It is unusual to say that Jesus “had come in the flesh,” though the expression “the Son of God has come in the flesh,” or “God was manifested in the flesh,” would be in accordance with the usage of the New Testament.

(3)  This would not, probably, meet the real point in the case. The thing denied does not appear to have been that Jesus was the Messiah, for their pretending to be Christian teachers at all implied that they admitted this; but that the Son of God was “really a man,” or that He actually assumed human nature in permanent union with the divine.

The point of the remark made by the apostle is, that the acknowledgment was to be that Christ assumed human nature; that He was really a man as he appeared to be:  or that there was a real incarnation, in opposition to the opinion that he came in appearance only, or that he merely seemed to be a man, and to suffer and die.  It is quite probable that the apostle here refers to such sentiments as those which were held by the “Docetae;” and that he meant to teach that it was indispensable to proper evidence that anyone come from God, that he should maintain that Jesus was truly a man, or that there was a real incarnation of the Son of God.  John always regarded this as a very important point, and often refers to it, John 19:34-35, 20:25-27; 1 John 5:6.

It is as important to be held now as it was then, for the fact that there was a real incarnation is essential to all just views of the atonement.  If he was not truly a man, if he did not literally shed his blood on the cross, of course all that was done was in appearance only, and the whole system of redemption as revealed was merely a splendid illusion.  There is little danger that this opinion will be held now, for those who depart from the doctrine laid down in the New Testament in regard to the person and work of Christ, are more disposed to embrace the opinion that he was a mere man; but still it is important that the truth that he was truly incarnate should be held up constantly before the mind, for in no other way can we obtain just views of the atonement.   



4:3                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     and that no spirit is from God which does not acknowledge this about Jesus. Such is the spirit of the anti-Christ; of whose coming you have heard, and it is already in the world.

WEB:              and every spirit who doesn't confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already.

Young’s:         and every spirit that doth not confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come, of God it is not; and this is that of the antichrist, which ye heard that it doth come, and now in the world it is already.

Conte (RC):    and every spirit who contradicts Jesus is not of God. And this one is the Antichrist, the one that you have heard is coming, and even now he is in the world.


4:3                   And every spirit.  Without exception; an universal rule that absolutely must be met to have acceptability with God.  [rw]

that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.  That does not confess Jesus as the historical person who is Christ and the Son of God and the Savior of the world.  [49]

Textual issue of “is come in the flesh” (omitted by ESV, NASB):  After the word Jesus we must [mentally] understand “as him who has been made flesh”—which is added in one of the old and many of the later manuscripts—but the shorter expression actually employed is very emphatic, intimating that the long and short of the Gnostic view is that it is a rejection of Jesus as the one Redeemer.  Herein, therefore, every one has a simple test whereby to distinguish that which, according to verse 3, is an elimination of the essence of Christianity.  [50]    

A difference in the Latin language version of the text:  This alludes to the heresy of Cerinthus, the contemporary of John, who taught that Jesus was merely the son of human parents, but that the Christ was an aeon, or superhuman being who descended upon Jesus at his baptism; thus separating the person of Jesus.  [33]

The Latin Vulgate here reads “qui solvit Jesum,” “who dissolves or divides Jesus;” and Socrates (H. E. vii. 32) says that in the old copies of the New Testament it is written ὅ λίει τὸν Ἱησοῦν (“who dissolves or divides Jesus”); that is, who “separates” his true nature or person, or who supposes that there were “two” Christs, one in appearance, and one in reality.  This reading was early found in some manuscripts, and is referred to by many of the Fathers, but it has no real authority, and was evidently introduced, perhaps at first from a marginal note, to oppose the prevailing errors of the times.  The common reading, “who confesseth not,” is found in all the Greek manuscripts, in the Syriac versions, in the Arabic; and, as Lucke says, the other reading is manifestly of Latin origin.  The common reading in the text is that which is sustained by authority, and is entirely in accordance with the manner of John.  [18]

Are the closing words even part of the original text [omitted by ESV, NASB]?  On overwhelming evidence (AB, Coptic, Aethiopic, Vulgate, &c.) we must omit the words “that Christ is come in the flesh,” retaining only confesseth not Jesus:  the additional words are an obvious interpolation by one who wished to make the two sides of the antithesis exactly equal.  But, as we have repeatedly seen (1 John 1:5-8; 1;10; 2:10; 2:22-23, &c.), this is rarely the case in John’s oppositions.  [23]

is not of God.  Does not have God’s approval or endorsement.  Hence anyone who is foolish enough to advocate this position has laid aside the true reality for their own preferred delusion.  [rw]

and this is that spirit of antichrist.  This is one of the things which characterize antichrist.  John here refers not to an individual who should be known as antichrist, but to a class of persons.  This does not, however, forbid the idea that there might be some one individual, or a succession of persons in the church, to whom the name might be applied by way of eminence.  [18]

“From this, as well as from John 2:18, it appears that antichrist is not any particular person, nor any particular succession of persons in the church, but a general name for all false teachers in every age, who disseminate doctrines contrary to those taught by the apostles; especially if these doctrines have a tendency to derogate from Christ’s character and actions as the Savior of the world.” — Macknight.  [35]

This is the spirit answering to, and identified with, the spirit of antichrist. 

The Christian professor who has this spirit is an antichrist.  Let it be recalled and emphasized, that an antichrist is not one who denies Christ outright; but one who, claiming to receive Him, attributes to Him such a nature, work, or doctrine as really makes another [=different] Christ of Him.   The name may be given to one so doing, or to the common spirit pervading all who do this.  Along all the gospel age, this “man of sin” (2Thesalonians 2:3) has his types, men who, claiming the Christian name, are perverting the fundamental doctrine it represents.  [52]

whereof ye have heard that it should come.  From our Lord and us, that it cometh.  [2]

and even now already is it in the world.  The spirit of antagonism to Christ has passed from “the invisible world of spiritual wickedness” to the visible world of human action. The addition of “already” hints that something more may be expected to follow.  Compare “The mystery of lawlessness doth already work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).  [23]



4:4                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     As for you, dear children, you are God's children, and have successfully resisted them; for greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

WEB:              You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.              

Young’s:         Ye -- of God ye are, little children, and ye have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.

Conte (RC):    Little sons, you are of God, and so you have overcome him. For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                              


4:4                   Ye are of God.  You are of his family; you have embraced his truth.  [18]

                        The ὑμεῖς is in emphatic opposition to the false teachers.  They are on one side, and the apostle's readers on the other, and it is from this standpoint that they are to “prove the spirits.”  John knows nothing of any neutral position from which the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error can be criticized “with absolute impartiality.”  “He that is not with me is against me.”  This assumed neutral position is already within the domain of error.  [24]

little children.  In comparison with what they could yet become spiritually they are yet in the childhood phase—and yet even there they have been able to see through the spiritual futility of the false prophets.  [rw]

As a reference to social “rank:”  The errorists might be more eloquent, higher up in the social scale, more learned, but the “little ones” having the truth were the conquering people.  [52]

and have overcome them.  Have triumphed over their arts and temptations; their endeavors to draw you into error and sin.  The word them in this place seems to refer to the false prophets or teachers who collectively constituted antichrist.  The meaning is, that they had frustrated or thwarted all their attempts to turn them away from the truth.  [18]

Nothing has misled them in the past and he implies the confidence that this will remain true in the future.  For why should things be different since they have laid a strong foundation and pattern of faith?  [rw]

because greater is he that is in you.  Not in their own strength has the victory been won, but in His whose word abideth in them (1 John 2:14).  It is precisely for this reason that they may have confidence against all spiritual enemies:  it is not confidence in themselves (1 Corinthians 15:57 especially Ephesians 6:10-17).  [23]

than he that is in the world.  Saying it concisely:  [T]his is the devil, the prince of this world.  [22]

Satan, as its inspirer and prince.  [33]

                        Saying it in more detail:  The ruler of this world” (John 12:31), the devil, the father of these lying teachers (1 John 3:10; John 8:44), whose works Christ came to destroy (1 John 3:8).  By saying “in the world” rather than “in them,” the Apostle indicates that they belong to “the world.”  “John constantly teaches that the Christian’s work in this state of probation is to conquer ‘the world.’  It is, in other words, to fight successfully against that view of life which ignores God, against that complex system of attractive moral evil and specious intellectual falsehood which is organized and marshaled by the great enemy of God, and which permeates and inspires non-Christianized society” (Liddon).  [23]



4:5                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     They are the world's children, and so their language is that of the world, and the world listens to them. We are God's children.

WEB:              They are of the world. Therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them.

Young’s:         They -- of the world they are; because of this from the world they speak, and the world doth hear them;

Conte (RC):    They are of the world. Therefore, they speak about the world, and the world listens to them.


4:5                   They.  Those false prophets.  [2]

are of the world.  This follows, though it has not yet been stated, from their not being “of us” (1 John 2:19):  for there is no middle position.  The verse is another reminiscence of the Lord’s farewell discourses:  “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own” (John 15:19; compare John 17:14).  [23]

They are of the world, therefore they talk as of the world, and the world listens to them.  No matter what their pretense and their glamour, the false teachers belong to the world, they have the world’s manner and mind.  This is shown also in their talking, in their teaching and preaching, for its substance is not divine and leading to godliness, but it is inspired by the world, by its manner of thinking and acting.  False teachers usually have messages that tickle the itching ears of their hearers.  The children of the world will gladly hear them, the world receives their doctrines with enthusiasm.  It is an almost unfailing criterion:  if a certain preacher is widely advertised and acclaimed as a prophet for our times, he has probably managed to accommodate the old Scriptural language to some of his own philosophy in denying the fundamentals of the Bible.  Witness the so-called Christianity of the social gospel. [15]

therefore speak they of the world.  This may mean either that their conversation pertained to the things of this world, or that they were wholly influenced by the love of the world, and not by the Spirit of God, in the doctrines which they taught.  The general sense is, that they had no higher ends and aims than they have who are influenced only by worldly plans and expectations.  It is not difficult to distinguish, even among professed Christians and Christian teachers, those who are heavenly in their [orientation] from those who are influenced solely by the spirit of the world.  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and the general turn of a man‘s conversation will show what “spirit is within him.”  [18]

and the world heareth them.  The people of the world--the frivolous ones, the rich, the proud, the ambitious, the sensual--receive their instructions, and recognize them as teachers and guides, for their views accord with their own.  See John 15:19.  A professedly religious teacher may always determine much about himself by knowing what class of people are pleased with him.  [18]

                        For it hears from them nothing which wounds its self-conceit—nothing which makes it really uneasy—nothing about the doom which awaits it.  [42]  



4:6                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     The man who is beginning to know God listens to us, but he who is not a child of God does not listen to us. By this test we can distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.

WEB:              We are of God. He who knows God listens to us. He who is not of God doesn't listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

Young’s:         we -- of God we are; he who is knowing God doth hear us; he who is not of God, doth not hear us; from this we know the spirit of the truth, and the spirit of the error.

Conte (RC):    We are of God. Whoever knows God, listens to us. Whoever is not of God, does not listen to us. In this way, we know the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.                                               


4:6                   We.  Broadly interpreted:  True teachers of Christ; in contrast to them.  [4]   

                        Narrowly interpreted:  Apostles.  [2]

are of God.  He takes it for granted that those to whom he wrote would admit this, and argues from it as an indisputable truth.  [18]

he that knoweth God heareth us.  For “he that is of God heareth the words of God” (John 8:47).  [49]

In short:  We” here seems to mean the apostles.  If it is considered “broad enough to include all who have truly received Christ by faith,” it leaves no one to be the hearers.  [24]   

In more detail:  Here once more we have that magisterial tone of Apostolic authority which is so conspicuous in the Prologue (1 John 1:1-4).  It underlies the whole Epistle, as it does the whole of the Fourth Gospel, but here and there comes to the surface.  It is the quiet confidence of conscious strength.  Compare “He that is of God heareth the words of God; for this cause ye hear them not because ye are not of God;” and, “Every one that is of the Truth heareth My voice” (John 8:47; John 18:37).  For ordinary Christians to adopt this language is presumptuous sectarianism.  [23]

he that is not of God heareth not us.  How can this possibly be otherwise?  Why in the world would a person who rejects the binding authority of God’s revelation possibly “hear” (i.e., embrace) the teaching of those who are teaching God’s revelation?  [rw]

It is not the spiritual mind (John 10:8), but the unspiritual, that goes after the errorists, that prefers human philosophy to the true word.  [52]

Hereby know we the spirit of truth.  The Holy Spirit; John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13:  compare 1 Corinthians 2:12, where the whole passage is very similar to this.  It is not easy to determine whether the genitive “of truth” expresses the character of the Spirit, as in “the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13), “the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29), or the source, as in “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 11).  The Spirit is the Truth (1 John 5:7), proceeds from Him who is the Truth (John 14:6, 26), communicates and interprets the Truth (John 16:13-14).  [23]

and the spirit of error.  The one who embraces the teaching of God’s Spirit represents one human option.  The other is the person who embraces false teaching of any sort—“embodying” it (so to speak) as if it were itself a revelatory source, though not from God.  Perhaps a good parallel today are denominational creeds and related authoritative works that can be cited in infinite detail as definitively establishing truth--even where they justify the abandonment of the truth that has actually been revealed by God’s Spirit in Scripture.  Just like these ancients typically meant well (though we often suppress that thought), both reject the authority of where the Spirit really speaks in the written word of God.  [rw]     



4:7                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Dear friends, let us love one another; for love has its origin in God, and every one who loves has become a child of God and is beginning to know God.

WEB:              Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.      

Young’s:         Beloved, may we love one another, because the love is of God, and every one who is loving, of God he hath been begotten, and doth know God;

Conte (RC):    Most beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God. And everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.


4:7                   Beloved.  For the third and last time in this Epistle the Apostle introduces the subject of brotherly love.  First it was introduced as a consequence and sign of walking in the light (1 John 2:7-11).  Next it was introduced as a special form of righteousness and mark of God’s children (1 John 3:10-18).  Here it appears as a gift of the Spirit of God, a contrast to the antichristian spirit, and above all as an effluence from the very Being of God. [23]

let us love one another.  “Love one another” here, as in 1 John 3:11, applies primarily to the mutual love of Christians.  The love of Christians to unbelievers is not expressly excluded, but it is not definitely before the Apostle’s mind.  [23]

for love is of God.  And “we are of God” (1 John 4:6), and “ye are of God” (1 John 4:4); therefore there should be the family bond of love between us.  [23]

Love is not merely an attribute of God, it is His very Being.  Hence to be without love is to be without God:  compare 1 John 4:16.  [7]

It is a necessity of His nature, it is His very nature, to love.  He cannot exist without loving.  He cannot but love.  From all eternity, from before all worlds, God is love.  Love never is or can be, never was or could be, absent from his being.  He never is or can be God, He never was or could be God—without being also love; without loving.  It has ever been, active, forth-going, self-manifesting, self-communicating.  [37]

and every one that loveth is born of God.   Every one, in whose heart this divine principle reigns, and conquers the selfish and contrary passions, shows by it that he is regenerated and transformed into the divine image.  [35]

and knoweth God.  He comes by experience to know Him by thus sharing the Divine nature.  [23]

For I cannot love until I have first won faith in God’s love in Christ and I cannot arrive at faith until I have attained a knowledge of God in Christ.  [49]



4:8                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     He who is destitute of love has never had any knowledge of God; because God is love.

WEB:              He who doesn't love doesn't know God, for God is love.

Young’s:         he who is not loving did not know God, because God is love.

Conte (RC):    Whoever does not love, does not know God. For God is love.                                     


4:8                   He that loveth not knoweth not God.  Literally, knew not God, i.e. never attained to a knowledge of Him.  This is a remarkable instance of John’s habit of not making the second part of an antithesis the exact counterpart of the first, but an advance beyond it.  Instead of saying “is not born of God” he says “never knew God,” which is much stronger.  Not to have known love is not to have known God.  [23]

for God is love.  In this, that God is love as to His essential Being, lies the reason, why he that is born of God, must also have love and live in love and why the love of God must be allied with the love of the brethren who are also born of God.  [20]

“Love is not so much a quality which God has, as rather the all-embracing total of what He is.”  (Besser).  [49]

                        This is the third of John’s great statements respecting the Nature of God:  “God is Spirit” (John 4:24); “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and “God is love.”  And yet of the three great truths this is the chief.  The other two are incomplete without it.  The first, “God is spirit,” is almost more negative than positive:  God is not material; He “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”  The second might seem in making our idea of Him more definite to remove Him further away from us:  God is perfect intelligence, perfect purity, perfect holiness.  The third not only makes His Nature far more clearly known, but brings Him very close to us.  The spirit is shown to be personal, the light to have warmth and life.  [23]



4:9                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     God's love for us has been manifested in that He has sent His only Son into the world so that we may have Life through Him.

WEB:              By this God's love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

Young’s:         In this was manifested the love of God in us, because His Son -- the only begotten -- hath God sent to the world, that we may live through him;

Conte (RC):    The love of God was made apparent to us in this way: that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him.


4:9                   In this was manifested the love of God toward us.  That is, in an eminent manner, or this was a most signal proof of it.  The apostle does not mean to say that it has been manifested in no other way, but that this was so prominent an instance of His love, that all the other manifestations of it seemed absorbed and lost in this.  [18]

because that God sent his only begotten Son.  Not only proof of His love, but its incarnation and embodiment.  [33]

“Sent” shows that Jesus was on a mission authorized and approved by someone else—the heavenly Father Himself.  [rw]

This verse is a reminiscence of John 3:16-17.  The term only begotten occurs here only in this letter.  For instances of its use see Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; John 10:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Hebrews 11:17.  The term only begotten indicates both the divine character of the person sent and the greatness of the love that impelled the sending.  The greatness of God’s love, the greatness of the person of Jesus, the greatness of man’s worth that required such a sacrifice, all stand out here.  This love was personal, eternal, atoning, entailing a sacrifice on God's part.  The wideness of God's love appears in the term, “world.”  [51]

into the world.  This world was where the problem was; therefore this was where the Son needed to be sent.  [rw]

This is the echo—the reproduction of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  [42]

that we might live through him.  These are the important words, setting forth that in which God’s love is so conspicuous and so unique.  The only Son has been sent for this purpose (ἵνα), that we may live, and not die, as we should otherwise have done:  compare 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:11; John 3:16-17; John 3:36.  [23]



4:10                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     This is love indeed--we did not love God, but He loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

WEB:              In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Young’s:         in this is the love, not that we loved God, but that He did love us, and did send His Son a propitiation for our sins.

Conte (RC):    The love of God was made apparent to us in this way: that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him.                                                 


4:10                 Herein is love.  The heights of love are shown, not only in sending the Son, but sending him [specifically] to be a “propitiation for our sins;” to become a sin offering for us, and to die for us.  [3] 

not that we loved God.  The superiority of God’s love does not lie merely in the fact of its being Divine.  It is first in order of time and therefore necessarily spontaneous:  ours is at best only love in return for love.  His love is absolutely disinterested; ours cannot easily be so.   [23]

but that he loved us.  Not that He approved our character, but that He desired our welfare.  [18]

Thus Paul, “God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners (and unreconciled sinners must be alienated from God) Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8]; and Titus 3:4, “We ourselves were some time foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.  But after the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared,” &c.  Man could form no conception of such a way of Reconciliation as is set forth in the Gospel.  In the very nature of things such an exhibition of love could only come from God.  [42]   

and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  “To be the propitiation” is literally “as a propitiation;” it is parallel to “that we might live through Him” in the previous verse; but at the same time is an expansion of it.  It states the manner in which life is won for us.  [23]

The only atonement for human beings which God can accept must be the outcome of a will—of a will which submits to God under circumstances of such intense devotion, that it can be accepted on behalf of the race.  And the Son of God alone could accomplish this.  And to all of this must be added His sinlessness and His Divine greatness.  And so we can see, faintly it is true, but yet with much certainty, how the submission of the God-Man, because He witnessed to goodness, and truth, and love, and trust in God, was sufficient to be accepted on behalf of the [human] race.  [42]



4:11                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Dear friends, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

WEB:              Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.

Young’s:         Beloved, if thus did God love us, we also ought one another to love;

Conte (RC):    Most beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another.


4:11                 Beloved.  For the sixth and last time the Apostle uses this appropriate address.  [23]

if God so loved us.  The fact is stated gently, but without any doubt:  here “if” is almost equivalent to “since;” “If, as is manifest, to this extent God loved us.”  Compare, “If I then, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).  [23] 

we ought also to love one another.  If God gave His Son in sacrifice for us, we must in return give something in sacrifice to God, and the sacrifice most pleasing to Him is that in which we deny ourselves for the sake of our necessitous [= needy] brethren.  [42]

As children of God we must exhibit His nature, and we must follow His example, and we must love those whom He loves.  Nor is this the only way in which the Atonement forms part of the foundation of Christian Ethics.  It is only when we have learned something of the infinite price paid to redeem us from sin, that we rightly estimate the moral enormity of sin, and the strength of the obligation which lies upon us to free ourselves from its pollution.  [23]

                        Only in this way can we show our love to God and our possession of His spirit.  True love cannot be hid in the heart, it must go out toward others.  We may reciprocate God's love to us by giving our love to others.  [51] 



4:12                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     No one has ever yet seen God. If we love one another, God continues in union with us, and His love in all its perfection is in our hearts.

WEB:              No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us.

Young’s:         God no one hath ever seen; if we may love one another, God in us doth remain, and His love is having been perfected in us;

Conte (RC):    No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.                                                     


4:12                 No man hath seen God at any time.  Better, as R.V., No man hath beheld God at any time:  a different verb (τεθέαται) is used here from that used in 1 John 4:20 and in John 1:18 (ἑώρακαν) where we have exactly the same statement.  The verb used here implies something of gazing and contemplation:  our word “theatre” comes from it.  Compare, “Whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).  [23]

                        None has seen God in His Essence.  No one hath seen [the] Godhead, but the eternal Word so took human nature, that they who saw Him saw God.  One, when he was permitted to handle Him, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28].  [ - ]

If we love one another.  The apostle now turns to the  reward of brotherly love—rather than its obligation and duty.  [rw]

God dwelleth in us.  Better, as R.V., “God abideth in us:  He is not a momentary visitant but a permanent friend and guest.  [23]

Though God is invisible, nevertheless, if we exercise brotherly love, we know that God is in us, for love is of God.  [49]

and his love is perfected in us.  Has its full effect.  [2]

Reach its full completion and maturity.  [49]

Is this the love of God toward us or is this our love toward God—case for the latter.  ”His love” to us can scarcely be meant; for in what sense would our loving one another perfect that?  Moreover, as already noticed, “the love of God” in this Epistle commonly means man’s love to Him, not His to man (1 John 2:5; 3:17; 5:3).  “His love” might possibly mean the love which characterizes Him, or the love which He has implanted in us; but the other is simpler.  Our love to God is developed and perfected by our loving one another.  We practice and strengthen our love of the Unseen by showing love to the seen.  [23]     



4:13                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     We can know that we are continuing in union with Him and that He is continuing in union with us, by the fact that He has given us a portion of His Spirit.

WEB:              By this we know that we remain in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

Young’s:         in this we know that in Him we do remain, and He in us, because of His Spirit He hath given us.

Conte (RC):    In this way, we know that we abide in him, and he in us: because he has given to us from his Spirit.


4:13                 Hereby know we that we dwell in him.  Here is another, or an additional evidence of it.  [18]

and he in us.  He is “part” of us and we are “part” of Him.  We are inseparably linked so long as we are faithful Christians.  [rw]   

because he hath given us of his Spirit.  We know that God dwells in us by the Spirit given us. But we know we have the Spirit by its fruits.  The first and greatest of these is love.  See Galatians 5:22.  [3] 

To think about:  Some commentators understand the apostle as speaking here of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; but surely these gifts, of whatever kind they might be, never were to any man a certain evidence of his possessing real piety and union with God, as is manifest from our Lord’s words [in] (Matthew 7:22), Many will say to me in that day of final judgment, We have prophesied in thy name, &c.; then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, &c.  And St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13;2) declares, that though a man had such a measure of miracle-working faith, that he could remove mountains, yet if he had not love to God and mankind, it would profit him nothing.  The ordinary graces of the Spirit, such as are enumerated Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 3:12-17; Romans 12:9-21, are certain evidences of a person’s being a child of God; but the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are not, inasmuch as they sometimes have been and still may be possessed by persons destitute of true religion.  [35]



4:14                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And we have seen and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

WEB:              We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world.

Young’s:         And we -- we have seen and do testify, that the Father hath sent the Son -- Saviour of the world;

Conte (RC):    And we have seen, and we testify, that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.                                                   


4:14                 And we have seen.  “We” is emphatic, and, as in the Prologue, means John and the other Apostles.  See John 1:4.  With their own eyes they saw the Son working out His mission as the Savior of the world.  “Beheld” points back to 1 John 4:12:  “God Himself no one hath ever yet beheld; but we have beheld His Son.”  [23]

                        The language of this verse, as of 1 John 1:1 and 1 John 1:3, would be strained and rather unreal in one who had not seen the Christ in the flesh.  [24]

and do testify.  Both in the past and continue to do so in both our preaching and writing.  [rw]

that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.  As the apostle had said in chapter 2:2, “Not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.”  [42]

See the same phrase, John 4:42, and compare John 3:17.  [1]

“Of the world” is important; not of the Jews only, or of the “enlightened” Gnostics only, but of all.  There is no limit but the willingness of men to accept salvation by believing on the Savior.  “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17).  [23]

 Saviour.  To those who receive him, the Son of God is Savior from what?  From guilt and condemnation, from despair, from a nature of sin, from error, from a body of death, from the world, from Satan, from an eternal hell; requiring a great Savior, with all His deity and all His humanity, all His blood and all His Spirit.  [52]

Greek language notes:  Σωτήρ Savior, occurs in John only here and John 4:42.  Elsewhere it is applied both to God (1 Timothy 1:1; 2:3; Titus 1:3; 2:10; Titus 3:4; Jude verse 25), and to Christ (Luke 2:11; Acts 5:31; 13:23; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4, etc.).  The title is found in Paul's Epistles of the Captivity (Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20), and in the Pastorals (see above), but not in Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, or Thessalonians.  

In classical writings the term is applied to many deities, especially to Zeus (Jupiter); also to Hermes (Mercury), Apollo, Hercules, and even to female deities, as Fortune and Aphrodite (Venus).  “Zeus Soter” (Zeus Savior) was used as a formula in drinking at banquets.  The third cup was dedicated to him.  Compare Plato:  “Then, by way of a third libation to the savior Zeus, let us sum up and reassert what has been said” (“Philebus,” 66).

The drinking of this cup was a symbol of good fortune, and the third time came to mean the lucky time.  “Twice then has the just man overthrown the unjust; and now comes the third trial, which, after Olympic fashion, is sacred to Zeus the savior, . . . and surely this will prove the greatest and most decisive of falls”  (Plato, “Republic,” 583).  Hence the proverb, τὸ τρίτον τῳ σωτῆρι, lit., the third to the savior; i.e., the third or lucky time.  The name was also given later to princes or public benefactors.

The kindred noun σωτηρία salvation, does not occur in John's Epistles, and appears only once in the Gospel (John 4:22).  It is found thrice in Revelation (Revelation 7:10; 12:10; 19:1).  Σώζειν to save occurs six times in John's Gospel, and once in Revelation (Revelation 21:24).  It does not appear in the Epistles.  [1]



4:15                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God--God continues in union with him, and he continues in union with God.

WEB:              Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God.

Young’s:         whoever may confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God in him doth remain, and he in God;

Conte (RC):    Whoever has confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.


4:15                 Whosoever.  Any Christian; every Christian who does this—without exception.  [rw] 

shall confess.  This was what the false prophets refused to do.  [23]

that Jesus is the Son of God.  The Christ, the Savior of the world.  [35]

God dwelleth in him.  There is a blessed union between God and his soul, so that it is, in the language of Scripture, the habitation of God; who, as it were, lives and walks in him, Ephesians 2:22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:18.  [35]

and he in God.  This completes the expression of the perfect living union of God and the regenerate soul.  [52]

Even Apostles, who have beheld and borne witness, can have no more than this Divine fellowship, which is open to every believer.  [23]



4:16                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And, as for us, we know the love which God has for us, and we confide in it. God is love, and he who continues to love continues in union with God, and God continues in union with him.

WEB:              We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

Young’s:         and we -- we have known and believed the love, that God hath in us; God is love, and he who is remaining in the love, in God he doth remain, and God in him.

Conte (RC):    And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love. And he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.       


4:16                 And we have known and believed.  This is the natural order; progressive knowledge leads up to faith.  But sometimes faith precedes knowledge (John 6:69).  In either case each completes the other.  Sound faith is intelligent; sound knowledge is believing.  We must be “ready always to give answer to every man that asketh a reason concerning the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15).  This verse is a fulfillment of the conclusion of Christ’s High-Priestly prayer:  “I made known unto them Thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou lovedst Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).  [23]

the love that God hath to us.  And hath manifested, not only by giving his Son to die for us (1 John 4:9-10), but [also] by making us His children in and through His Son, 1 John 3:1.  [35]

God is love.  The apostle repeats what he had declared 1 John 4:8.  [35]

and he that dwelleth in love.  Namely, in love to God, His people, and all mankind.  [35]

John has here three abidings:  abiding in love, abiding in God, abiding in the believer.  Abiding in love is regarded as the condition of abiding in fellowship with God.  The term, love, is here used in its widest sense.  It takes two forms, love to God, love to men.  [51]

dwelleth in God and God in him.  His union and communion with God are hereby continued and increased.  [35]

The terms abiding in God, and God abiding in us, are both used, so that one is not found apart from the other.  God may be said to abide in us by His personal watchcare and love.  Above all, the expression signifies that the Holy Spirit abiding in us, is in reality, God abiding in us.  [51]

dwelleth in God and God in him.  There is a two-way “indwelling:  God (His commands and teaching) being embedded deep within us—and since they come from the Divine we can rightly speak of His “personal” presence as well--and knowledge of our love and loyalty being deeply lodged within His mind and concerns so that He is as concerned with us as a good shepherd is with his sheep.  [52]    



4:17                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Our love will be manifested in all its perfection by our having complete confidence on the day of the Judgement; because just what He is, we also are in the world.

WEB:              In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world.

Young’s:         In this made perfect hath been the love with us, that boldness we may have in the day of the judgment, because even as He is, we -- we also are in this world;

Conte (RC):    In this way, the love of God is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment. For as he is, so also are we, in this world.


4:17                 Herein.  “Herein” may refer to either of the two clauses which follow.  But it is perhaps best to make “Herein” refer to what precedes; to our abiding in God and God in us.  This avoids the awkwardness of making perfection of love in the present depend upon our attitude at the Judgment [“that we may have boldness in the day of judgment”], which though near (1 John 2:18) according to John’s view, is still future.   [23]

is our love made perfect.  The meaning seems to be that love, which is of God (1 John 4:7), takes up its abode with us and is developed until it is perfected. “Love” here evidently means our love towards God:  His love towards us can have no fear about it (1 John 4:18).  [23]

that we may have boldness.  The day of judgment, whether near or remote, is regarded as so certain that it is a present fact influencing our conduct.  [32]

in the day of judgment.  The full phrase here used, “the day of the judgment” occurs nowhere else:  the usual form is “day of judgment” (Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:7).  John elsewhere calls it “the last day” (John 6:39-40, 44, 54), or “the great day” (Revelation 6:17; compare John 16:14).  Other Scriptural phrases are “the day of the Lord,” “the day of God,” “day of Christ,” “that day,” “the day.”  [23]

because as he is, so are we in this world.  Imitation of His example extends broadly into our lives:  As whilst sojourning in this world He loved, so do we.  We follow, distantly no doubt, but still really, in His footsteps of love; and in other respects, also, we take Him as an example:  as He purified or consecrated Himself, so do we; as He obeyed His Father, so do we; as He for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, so do we.  He cannot condemn us if we thus endeavor to make ourselves like Him.  [42]



4:18                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Love has in it no element of fear; but perfect love drives away fear, because fear involves pain, and if a man gives way to fear, there is something imperfect in his love.

WEB:              There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love.

Young’s:         fear is not in the love, but the perfect love doth cast out the fear, because the fear hath punishment, and he who is fearing hath not been made perfect in the love;

Conte (RC):    Fear is not in love. Instead, perfect love casts out fear, for fear pertains to punishment. And whoever fears is not perfected in love.                   


4:18                 There is no fear in love.  There may be reverential fear, but there is no terror.  Fear of God gives way to love.  [3]

                        The meaning is, that as there is nothing more miserable than to be harassed by continual inquietude, we obtain by knowing God’s love towards us the benefit of a peaceful calmness beyond the reach of fear.  It hence appears what a singular gift of God it is to be favored with His love.  Moreover from this doctrine, he will presently draw an exhortation; but before he exhorts us to duty, he commends to us this gift of God, which by faith removes our fear.  [27]      
but perfect love casteth out fear.  “Love not only does not contain fear, but it also does not suffer it alongside of itself; the love which wholly drives away fear is not love in its first beginning, love as yet weak, but love in its perfection” (Huther).  [20]

                        It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has no fear.  Yet nothing but perfect love must be allowed to cast out fear.  Otherwise this text might be made an excuse for taking the most unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God.  To cease to fear without attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous.  Hence the apostle is once more pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire, but to which no one attains in this life.  [24]

but perfect love.  Love in its fullest development, when its strength is not grievously compromised by any form of fear.  [rw]

casteth out fear.  Desirable versus undesirable forms of fear:  What is meant by this fear?  It cannot well be the fear of God which is so insisted upon by the Savior and by His apostles.  Thus Paul speaks of our “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and “of our submitting ourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21).  And the earliest Churches “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).  And again “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12].  The true fear of God is awe and reverence for Him arising from a sense of His infinite Majesty.  Without it there can be no religion; but this fear, of which the apostle now speaks, is the opposite of the boldness mentioned in the last verse.  It has been defined as being slavish fear; the slave fears the whip of his master, not his righteous displeasure.  This sort of fear perfect love casts out.  The more we love God and show this love by loving our brethren, the less we shall fear God’s punishment, because we shall look upon God not as an inflicter of punishment but as a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.  [42]  

because fear hath torment [has to do with punishment, ESV, NIV].  The idea that fear itself is a form of punishment may be present, but the context (“day of judgment” [verse 17]) requires the interpretation that fear implies a consciousness of shortcoming and a consequent expectation of punishment.  Where love is perfected, no such expectation can exist.  [10]

 “Fear hath punishment” is true in two ways; (1) fear involves the idea of punishment; (2) fear is a foretaste of punishment.  [23] We know we are guilty and therefore recognize that there is no escape from the consequences.  [rw] 

Greek language note:  The word for “punishment” (κόλασις) occurs nowhere else in [the] N.T., excepting Matthew 25:46, but it is not uncommon in LXX nor in classical Greek.  Its radical signification is “pruning,” and hence it gets the notions of “checking, correcting, punishing.”  “Torment” as distinct from “punishment” is expressed by a different word (βάσανος), which occurs Matthew 4:24; Luke 16:23, 28.  Both words are found together in Wisdom 19:4; “That they might fulfill the punishment which was wanting to their torments.”  [23]

He that feareth is not made perfect in love.  Saint Paul teaches the same doctrine:  “Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).  The servile fear, which perfect love excludes, is therefore altogether different from the childlike awe, which is a necessary element in the creature’s love for its Creator.  Even servile fear is necessary as a preparation for perfect love.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” and it is also the beginning of love.  The sinner must begin by fearing the God against whom he has sinned.  Bengel gives the various stages thus: “neither love nor fear; fear without love; both fear and love; love without fear.”  Fear is the child of bondage; love of freedom.  In this case also the bondwoman and her son must be cast out (Galatians 4:30).  [23]  

Greek note:  The present tense indicates a constant condition:  the habitual fearer is necessarily imperfect in his love.  [23]



4:19                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     We love because God first loved us.

WEB:              We love him, because he first loved us.

Young’s:         we -- we love him, because He -- He first loved us;

Conte (RC):    Therefore, let us love God, for God first loved us.


4:19                 We love him.  Returning to Him that affection, tenderness, and respectful consideration that He has so generously provided to us.  [rw]

                        Who is being loved—an argument from the best Greek manuscripts [“him” omitted by ESV, NASB]:  Omit “Him,” which is a later addition to the true text:  some authorities for “Him” add “God,” and some have “God” for “He” in the next clause.  No accusative is expressed, and none, whether “God” or “one another,” is to be understood: Christian love of every kind is meant.  Authorities are much divided between “we love” and “let us love;” for the Greek (ἀγαπῶμεν) may be either indicative or hortative subjunctive.  [23]  

because he first loved us.  In eternity; and so sent Christ into the world to save us (verse 9.)  His love to us preceded our love.  It was the cause or reason of ours, which implies in the apostle's thought that it furnished the model or type of ours.  Our love is a thing rising from God's love, and so is naturally like it.  But God's love went out to men.  Ours therefore, to be full and perfect, must (verse 12) go out to men, even our brethren.  [52]

One last word, “We love Him, because He first loved us.”  Do you?  Or is it rather true of you:  “I do not love God, though He has loved me”?  I saw not long since, up on the flank of a mountain, an obstinate patch of snow, that had fronted, in unmelted cold, months of the summer sun.  There are some of us who lift a broad shield of thick-ribbed ice between ourselves and the radiance of the warm heart of God.  [31]



4:20                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     If any one says that he loves God, while he hates his brother man, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother man whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

WEB:              If a man says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn't love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

Young’s:         if any one may say -- 'I love God,' and his brother he may hate, a liar he is; for he who is not loving his brother whom he hath seen, God -- whom he hath not seen -- how is he able to love?

Conte (RC):    If anyone says that he loves God, but hates his brother, then he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he does see, in what way can he love God, whom he does not see?                    


4:20                 If a man say, I love God.   We return to the form of statement which was so common at the beginning of the Epistle (1 John 1:6, 8,10).  The case here contemplated is one form of the man that feareth not.  His freedom from fear is caused, however, not by the perfection of love, but by presumption.  He is either morally blind or a conscious hypocrite.  Compare 1 John 2:4, 9.  [23]

A man may say, “I love God,” a general sort of way.  He may even say it in a highly elaborated style:  he may address God as though in the spirit of worship, expressing beautiful thoughts and using endearing words.  Still, it must all be tested; for God is unseen, and to some active minds beautiful thoughts and words come easily and cheaply.  What will test the genuineness of such a profession as this?  Why, there is the brother who can be seen!  If I myself am born of God, every other who is also born of God is a brother to me.  The God whom I cannot see is presented to me in the one who is begotten of Him, this brother whom I can see.  [8] 

and hateth his brother.  As we have seen already (1 John 3:14-15), John treats not loving as equivalent to hating.  [23]

he is a liar.  It is not truth he speaks, it is a contradiction, and a thing impossible.  [16]

for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen.  John does not say “whom he can see,” but “whom he has continually before his eyes.”  The perfect tense, as so often, expresses a permanent state continuing from the past.  His brother has been and remains in sight, God has been and remains out of sight.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is a saying which holds good in morals and religion as well as in society.  And if a man fails in duties which are ever before his eyes and are easy, how can we credit him with performing duties which require an effort to bear in mind and are difficult?  And in this case the seen would necessarily suggest the unseen:  for the brother on earth implies the Father in heaven.  If therefore even the seen is not loved, what must we infer as to the unseen?  The seen brother and the unseen God are put in striking juxtaposition in the Greek:  “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, the God whom he hath not seen cannot love.”  But in English this would be misunderstood.  [23]

how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  It cannot be thought he should; the thing is not reasonable to suppose; it is not possible he should.  [16]

In a similar spirit Philo says parents may be regarded as “visible gods,” and “it is impossible that the Invisible should be revered by those who have no reverence for the visible.”  [23]

Life cannot have two supreme motives, two opposing ruling principles.  Hatred for men is a proof that love is not controlling the life; it shows one to be a liar if he is boasting his love for God.  [44]  



4:21                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And the command which we have from Him is that he who loves God must love his brother man also.

WEB:              This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother.

Young’s:         This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother.

Conte (RC):    And this is the commandment that we have from God, that he who loves God must also love his brother.


4:21                 And this commandment have we from him.  Where have we this commandment?  In the great summary of the law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . and thy neighbor as thyself,” so often cited by our Lord; see Matthew 22:37-39.  [22] 

that he who loveth God love his brother also.  Not only we may, but we must.  It is a divine invariable law, that the lover of God be a lover of his brother.  Our highest blessedness is our highest duty.  [33]

Bigotry is properly the want of this pure and universal love.  A bigot only loves those who embrace his opinions, and receive his way of worship; and he loves them for that, and not for Christ's sake.  [2]









All commentaries are in the public domain; the copyright having expired or never been on them. 



1          Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.  Word Studies in the New Testament.  1886.  Internet edition. 


2          John Wesley.  Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible.  1754-1765.  Internet edition.


3          Barton Johnson.  People’s New Testament.  1891.  Internet edition.


4          Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown.  Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.  Unabridged edition.  Internet edition.


5          Charles Simeon.  Horae Homileticae.  1832.  Internet edition.


6          James Gray.  Concise Bible Commentary.  1897-1910.  Internet edition.


7          John Dummelow, editor.  Dummelow’s Commentary on the Bible.  1909.  Internet edition. 


8          Frank B. Hole.  Old and New Testament Commentary.  Internet edition.            


9          E. M. Zerr.  Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament.  Internet edition.


10        Arthur Peake.  Commentary on the Bible.  1919.  Internet edition.


11        John A. Bengel.  Gnomon of the New Testament.  1897.  Internet edition.          


12        John S. C. Abbott.  Illustrated New Testament.  1878.  Internet edition. 


13        Joseph Sutcliffe.  Commentary on the Old and New Testaments.  1835.  Internet edition. 


14        Matthew Poole.  English Annotations on the Bible.  1685.  Internet edition.        


15        Paul E. Kretzmann.  Popular Commentary.  1921-1922.  Internet edition.            


16        John Gill.  Exposition of the Entire Bible.  1746-1763.  Internet edition. 


17        Adam Clarke.  Commentary.  1832.  Internet edition.        


18        Albert Barnes.  Notes on the New Testament.  1870.  Internet edition.   


19        Heinrich Meyer.  Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  1832.  Internet edition.             


20        Johann P. Lange.  Commentary on the Holy Scriptures:  Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical.  1857-1884.  Internet edition.        


21        William R. Nicoll, editor.  Expositor’s Greek Testament.  1897-1910.  Internet edition. 


22        Henry Alford.  Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary.  1863-1878.  Internet edition.        


23        Alfred Plummer.  Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.  1889.  Internet edition.  Basically a “simplified” version of the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges.       


24        The Pulpit Commentary.  1897.  Internet edition.  


25        John Trapp.  Complete Commentary.  Lived 1601-1669.  1865-1868 reprinting.  Internet edition.  


26        William Godbey.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


27        John Calvin.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition.            


28        Joseph C. Philpot (1802-1869).  Commentary on Select Texts.  Internet edition.            


29        George Haydock (1774-1849).  Catholic Bible Commentary.  Internet edition.  

30        H. A. Ironside.  Ironside’s Notes on Selected Books.  1914.  Internet edition     


31        Lost source; rather than delete the material, I felt it better to simply list the unidentifiable volume and admit my error.          


32        Charles J. Ellicott, editor. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers.  Internet edition.          


33        Daniel D. Whedon.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition. 


34        Philip Schaff, editor.  Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


35        Joseph Benson (born 1748).  Commentary of the Old and New Testaments.  Internet edition.  


36        Thomas Coke (published 1801-1803).  Commentary on the Holy Bible.  Internet edition.          


37        Robert S. Candlish.  The First Epistle of John Expounded In A Series of Lectures.  1877 edition.  Internet edition.           


38        Arno C. Gaebelein.  The Annotated Bible.  Internet edition.         


39        Joseph Parker.  The People's Bible.  Internet edition.       


40        Thomas Scott.  Commentary on the Bible.  Volume Six.  Fifth Edition.  London:  L. B. Seeley et al, 1822.           


41        Bernhard Weiss.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume Four.    New York:  Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906.        


42        M. F. Sadler.  The General Epistles of SS James, Peter, John and Jude.  London:  George Bell and Sons, 1895. 


43        [Robert S. Hunt?]  The Cottage Commentary:  The Epistle to the Hebrews and the General Epistles.  London:  Joseph Masters, 1865.     

44        Charles Erdman.  The General Epistles:  An Exposition.  Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1918.      


45        W. H. Bennett.  The Century Bible:  The General Epistles—James, Peter, John, and Jude.  Edinburgh:  T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1901.     


46        John B. Sumner.  A Practical Exposition of the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude.  London:  J. Hatchard and Son, 1840.           


47        James C. Gray.  Biblical Museum:  Hebrews to the End of the New Testament.  London:  Elliot Stock, 1877. 


48        William G. Humphry.  A Commentary on the Revised Version of the New Testament.  London:  Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Company, 1882.    


49        Revere F. Weidner.  The Lutheran Commentary:  Annotations on the General Epistles of James, Peter, Peter, John, and Jude.  New York:  Christian Literature Company, 1897.           


50        A Short Protestant Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume 3.  Translated from the Third German Edition.  London:  Williams and Norgate, 1884. 


51        O. P. Eaches.  Clark’s Peoples Commentary:  I, II, and III John, Jude, and Revelation.  Boston:  American Baptist Publication Society, 1910.           


52        Henry A. Sawtelle.  Commentary on the Epistles of John.  Philadelphia:   American Baptist Publication Society, 1888.